Gambling with lives on the seafront

Blackpool Weather Picture 4th Feb 'High winds and High tides Batter the North West Coast , Children Dodge the waves 'Pix Dave Nelson
Blackpool Weather Picture 4th Feb 'High winds and High tides Batter the North West Coast , Children Dodge the waves 'Pix Dave Nelson
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THREE youngsters play chicken with crashing waves unaware of the potential danger – and the cash cutbacks that could soon drastically reduce life-saving beach patrols.

As the youngsters dodged the high tide on Blackpool’s Lower Walk fears were raised over safety on our seafront.

Council bosses are considering cutting back on patrols as part of their plan to save £27m.

The children were pictured laughing as the waves crashed on to Lower Walk – the scene of Blackpool’s most infamous sea tragedy. Three police officers were killed near Gynn Square in 1983 after entering the water to save a man.

Blackpool Council’s beach patrols were out and about at the scene yesterday warning people about the dangers.

But The Gazette understands council bosses are looking to slash almost £125,000 from its life-saving service in a move which could see the resort without any seafront patrol cover in winter.

Currently there are five year-round members of beach patrol, supplemented by about a dozen seasonal workers who are taken on to provide extra cover during the busy summer months.

But in future, for at least two months of the year there could be no patrols in a bid to save money.

Mark Silcock, chairman of Blackpool and Fylde Sea Angling Association, said: “I hope we don’t see the day when someone loses their life because of these budget cuts.

“The sea anglers on the Lower Promenade were the eyes and ears of the coastguard which is one of the reasons we argued to be able to keep taking our vehicles down there, and that was at no cost to the council.

“I think beach patrol is understaffed as it is without cutting it down any more for the size of the area they have to patrol.”

In 2009, the last year for which figures are available, beach patrol attended 84 incidents and assisted 236 people to safety as well as helping reunite more than 100 lost children with their parents.

A Blackpool Council spokesman said: “Unlike other busy coastal towns such as Torbay and Whitby our beach patrol service operates year round even during the quieter winter months.

“Unfortunately in light of the current budget cuts efficiencies have been identified in all services and beach patrol is no exception.

“This proposal would see us focusing our beach patrol resource during the peak periods. This is not a decision that will be taken lightly and we are currently carrying out a risk assessment.

“We don’t have a statutory duty to provide a beach patrol service but due to the large numbers of people visiting Blackpool’s seafront it’s something we are committed to providing.

“The team doesn’t work in isolation but with the emergency services including the Coastguards and RNLI.”

But Sid Holt, who runs Fleetwood Lifesaving Club, warned: “I think it will put lives in danger if the council makes these cuts. Blackpool needs year-round cover because access to the beaches is almost unrestricted.

“When you think they have spent millions on the new headlands, £125,000 on beach patrol seems like chicken feed. What price do you put on a life?

“We have tides here up to about 10 metres and in the winter you still need cover. The kids see it as a challenge beating the waves but they can so easily be swept away.”

The Gazette’s pictures of the children dodging the waves shocked safety campaigners.

Coun Henry Mitchell is the chairman of public protection and says more should be being done to educate youngsters on the devastating effects the rough seas can have.

He said: “Common sense just goes out of the window. At the end of the day they are not playing with their own lives, but the lives of those trying to save them.”

Coastguard rescue officer Paul Little echoed Coun Mitchell’s comments and highlighted the dangers of playing next to strong waters.

He said: “It is ridiculous, we would advise anyone to stay as far away from the sea wall as possible.

“You can see from the photograph the sea condition, it would be extremely difficult for a lifeboat to get out and rescue one of them.

“On the old sea wall at Gynn Square people actually get rolled up in the water like a washing machine and they have tremendous difficulty getting out.”

PC Colin Morrison, PC Gordon Connolly and PC Angela Bradley drowned in 1983 after going to the aid of Alistair Andrew, 25, who was attempting to save his dog.