A COUNCIL leader said he was ‘shocked’ after a complete lack of consultation to place railings along Weymouth Harbour.

It comes after Dorset Council made the decision to put a barrier in place along Weymouth’s harbour walls at Custom House Quay amid concerns about public safety.

The safety railings were given the green light by Dorset Council’s cabinet committee after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) ‘advised’ the 250-metre long barrier be put in place.

However, Weymouth Town Council leader for finance, governance and services, David Harris, has blasted the decision after councillors at the local authority were none the wiser about plans to place the permanent safety measure.

Cllr Harris said: “We first knew when we read it in the Echo. The biggest issue is the decision should have come through me. It’s a shock.

“There has been no mention of any health and safety report - which would take time to process and does not happen instantaneously.”

The report from the HSE follows the death of man who fell from the harbour wall last June.

“If these railings needs to be put up after the report, then so be it - but I worry a lack of consultation has not helped matters. It’s put a dent in democracy,” said Mr Harris.

“There’s a lot of public outrage which could have been avoided if the local authority was informed. We could have eased public concerns. It’s frustrating because we want to help residents know what’s going on, especially when there’s no choice. It’s important not leave people in the dark about such matters.”

In response, Melcombe Community Group leaders Dave Burchill and Genny Burchill are holding a protest against the railings on the harbour today, starting at 10am. A petition has also been launched in a desperate bid to reverse a decision to install the barriers.

Mr Burchill said: “The main issue is a complete lack of consultation from Dorset Council.

“We don’t want to make the protest a big deal, especially with the issues surrounding social distancing and Covid-19. We just want to show we’re against the railings and the fact there’s been no opportunity to discuss it. The petition to reverse the decision has already been signed by more than 2,500 supporters, which shows how strongly the public are against the railings.”

Mrs Burchill said: “It’s wrong not to inform the public. It shows a disregard of their views.

“Crabbers and families will no longer be able to sit on the harbour walls, which is a shame because it’s a tradition to come here and do that. The soul of the harbour could be killed - I think Dorset Council have made a monster out of this situation.”

Melcombe Regis Cllr Ken Whatley said: “I agree with everything said about Dorset Council’s lack of consultation.

“I represent the ward and I’ve received flak from the public because I’ve not been able to inform them of anything. It’s an emotive issue.”

Richard Burgess, former planning chief at the former Weymouth and Portland Borough Council, said: “The decision to erect ugly railings around Weymouth Harbour, taken without full consultation, is ill considered and seems to have been taken by those who know little of Weymouth’s unique charm or character.”

Cllr Ray Bryan, portfolio holder for Highways, Travel and Environment, said: “We’ve been working closely with Weymouth Harbour Master on the installation of these safety railings.

“With the ever-increasing attraction of the harbour area, we needed to address the risk of injury to people by falling into the deep harbour water, or on to one of the pontoons.

“The initial materials are an interim measure as we work with the harbour users to determine what permanent solution may work best.”

Sections of pavement will be closed in the works area and move as it progresses along the harbour. The road will remain open throughout the work.

A council spokesman added: “The option for railings along Custom House Quay did not form part of the recent harbourside survey as this is an independent piece of safety work.

“Although the installation of railings has not been discussed with the wider public, discussions have taken place with various stakeholders within the Custom House Quay area.”

Work for the safety railings starts today and is expected to take around four weeks to be finished.