Update 09 April 2020
Following the recent community engagement process undertaken with Appleby residents about the Bongate Weir Group’s proposal to remove the damaged weir, the responses showed there was insufficient community support for removal. In light of this, today Eden Rivers Trust, the Environment Agency and Natural England have announced that the proposal has been withdrawn.
The Bongate Weir Group (Cumbria County Council, Eden District Council, Eden Rivers Trust, the Environment Agency and Natural England) came together to identify a permanent solution to concerns about the risks to people’s safety posed by Bongate weir in Appleby. The conclusion was reached that full removal was the only option that would remove any possibility of future accidents involving the weir.
Before progressing any further, the Group was keen to listen to comments from the Appleby community and other interested groups about the proposal to remove the weir. Earlier this year, they undertook an engagement process that included a leaflet drop to 3,216 properties, an information event and a response form that Appleby residents could complete stating whether they wanted to see the weir removed or not, and why.
Since the end of the engagement process, the escalation of the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that Group members have focused on essential emergency planning, which has unfortunately delayed the publication of these results.
The community’s views about the proposal to remove the weir
In total, 310 response forms were received. Of these 82% of people stated that they lived in Appleby.
In answer to the question, “Would you like to see the weir fully removed?” 63% said ‘no’ and 37% said ‘yes’, meaning that the majority of respondents do not want the weir removed.
Reasons given for keeping the weir included: being an important part of Appleby’s history, a local beauty spot and a place for recreation. Some people thought that removing the weir would negatively impact wildlife.
Those who were in favour of removing the weir cited concerns about safety and the cost of ongoing maintenance. A number of respondents believed that the river’s natural processes and its wildlife would improve as a result.
Safety concerns remain
Although the proposal to remove the weir has been withdrawn, safety concerns remain. Weirs remain dangerous places to boat, swim or paddle, as they create deep water and fast-flowing currents. Appleby’s is no exception – it is also unstable, has large holes under the water and is in danger of collapse.
The Group urges the public to take extra care when visiting the weir and not to go near the structure.
Alasdair Brock, Head of Conservation at Eden Rivers Trust said:
“Thank you to all those who took the time to share their views and complete a response form. We’ve listened to the reasons given by the community for keeping the weir and acknowledge the strong feelings surrounding it.
As a result, the Environment Agency, Natural England and ourselves do not feel that sufficient public support has been gained to progress the proposal to remove the damaged weir. Naturally, we’re disappointed, but our concerns over people’s safety and the poor condition of the weir remain.
Members of the Bongate Weir Group are limited in what further action they can take. None of the Group has statutory responsibility for the repair or ongoing maintenance of the weir and there are ongoing issues around ownership.
During the engagement process, some Appleby residents expressed an interest in setting up a community group to look after the weir. Should the community wish to take this forward, then the Environment Agency and Natural England will give advice on all of the necessary permissions and licenses required to undertake work on a weir.”