BOATERS who moor alongside Port Meadow are exasperated by plans to erect a fence around a boardwalk where their vessels are.

Last week, Oxford City Council said it was planning to erect the 3ft-high fence covered in green mesh netting around the thin wooden walkway along the east bank of the Thames to prevent vandalism and to make the boardwalk safer.

But boaters who have leisure moorings alongside the river have contested the council’s reasons for putting up the fence, saying there is very little anti-social behaviour in the area and that the new barrier would make their space to navigate the walkway narrower with less ‘wobble room’.

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Chris Timmins, one of the boaters, said: “They have told us the fence is necessary for health and safety. This is a bit confusing in itself.

“We believe it is not improving safety because you can still fall off into the river when trying to walk along the walkway. Boaters come along with wheelbarrows with coal and water on them. Once you put up a fence it restricts the wobble room for them.”

Oxford Mail: The walkway where the fence will be installed at Port Meadow. Picture: Pete HughesThe walkway where the fence will be installed at Port Meadow. Picture: Pete Hughes

The walkway. Picture: Pete Hughes

The Surrey-based boater added that boaters also thought the proposed fence would spoil the view.

Mr Timmins added: “The problem is, if you put a fence up, it isn’t nice to look at. People who spend time on their boats want to see the meadow. It is what they come here for: the beautiful view of Port Meadow.”

Fellow boater Belinda Low agreed that the fence would spoil the ‘Port Meadow’ experience for boaters and for members of the public, who also use the boardwalk as a pathway.

Ms Low added: “The fence is not going to stop the health and safety issues we have, it is just going to stop the general public being able to walk on the walkway.”

Part of the plans for the new fence also include locked gates on either end of the boardwalk, which could only be accessed by boaters, council staff, and workers from Bossoms Boatyard.

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But another boater, Claire Manson, said there were accessibility concerns for people using mobility scooters like her, or other mobility aids.

“It is less accessible for boaters in that is makes it narrower.”

Ms Manson, who lives in London, added the boaters were willing to give feedback on the council plans, and suggested other improvements could be made to the boardwalk instead, like a non-slip material on top of the wooden boards, more fingerboards running alongside boats to make it easier to board, and a widened walkway.

The council said it did not need planning permission to get the go-ahead for the fence, because installing it was ‘matter of public health and safety, the fencing is therefore a requirement to prevent harm or injury’.

Oxford Mail: A photo of teenagers at the Port Meadow boardwalk. Picture: Oxford City CouncilA photo of teenagers at the Port Meadow boardwalk. Picture: Oxford City Council

Teenagers at the boardwalk in summer. Picture: Oxford City Council

It added it did not need to consult, but asked local groups who have interests in the moorings for opinions: Bossoms Boatyard on the west bank of the river from the moorings, the Freeman of Oxford, and the Wolvercote Commoners who manage the meadow.

Julian Pierce, the director of Bossoms Boatyard, said he had initially suggested a hedge would have been more sympathetic than a fence.

He added: "Discouraging unauthorised users should incidentally reduce the risks to the berth holders caused by damage and muddying to the walkway, and it should therefore also reduce the costs of maintaining the moorings. We would hope to see the savings spent on the long term improvement of the moorings."

The council did not consult the boaters directly however, as it did not have contact details for them.

READ AGAIN about how residents residents thought the fence would spoil the view over Port Meadow

Tom Bridgman, Executive Director Development, Oxford City Council, said it had ‘received expert advice which covered the Health and Safety of the moorings and the risks of unauthorised users using the boardwalk’.

He added: “The advice identified that in order to act in the most expedient way, fencing was needed to ensure public safety, while it may also improve other issues that impact boaters such as vandalism and damage. However, the main purpose of the fencing is to improve public health and safety for everyone in Port Meadow.”

Mr Bridgeman also said: “The installation of the fencing will not restrict access to the meadow for anyone who wishes to visit, including people with disabilities.

“The walkway was not designed as an alternative access route to the Meadow but for moorers to access and use their boats only. The boardwalk can become slippery or flooded during winter months. When public safety issues are raised, the Council is obliged to act accordingly in order to minimise these risks.”

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