COUNCILLORS are considering how to help shut off County Lines drug dealers using Flintshire’s ‘jewel in the crown’ coastal path while keeping it accessible for all.
While Flintshire Council is looking at options for new barriers to the section of the Wales coastal path between Queensferry and Chester, the issue was discussed at cabinet level this week.
There have been concerns chicane and A-frame barriers installed in 2006 to prevent anti-social behaviour and illegal biking along the path are now prohibitive to people reliant on larger mobility scooters.
Engineering consultants have put forward either radar key operated barriers or staggered gates as options, while Holywell West Cllr Paul Johnson (Lab) suggested a ‘kissing gate’ similar in style to one at the Chatsworth Estate in Derbyshire could be a solution during a scrutiny meeting last week.
In that environment scrutiny meeting, it was felt that wider consultation is needed with groups who access the path, but councillors are also mindful of police concerns about the path being used for criminal activity.
Introducing the report, cabinet member for the environment, Caergwrle Cllr Dave Healey (Lab) said there was a fine balance to strike between ensuring the coastal path is accessible for all without inadvertently allowing it to become a key route for drug gangs.
He said: “There has been public concern about restricting access in any way by user groups and some of these issues were taken up by scrutiny.
“What I think is important is there is consultation moving forwards.
“The coastal path is an absolute treasure. We are the first country (Wales) in the world to have a path that goes right around the coast so it’s the jewel in the crown.
“But we are close to an epicentre of County Lines drug dealing and criminal activity related to it.
“Unrestricted access would allow motor bikers to go along the coastal path delivering drugs, committing various crimes along the way without the police being able to follow them unaware they’ve come off the path.
“We don’t want this treasure that we have to be ruined by these sorts of activities so I think it’s very important that we consider the various aspects of it.”
Chief officer for planning, Andrew Farrow said individual groups will be consulted about the proposals, and that grant funding will be accessed from Natural Resources Wales.
But he reminded councillors it was unlikely they would find a solution to suit everybody.
“It’s a really difficult one to solve but hopefully that’s a pragmatic way forward”, he said.
Cabinet member for housing, Shotton West Cllr Sean Bibby (Lab) echoed Cllr Healey’s concerns.
He said: “This is a difficult issue to deal with because we are trying to balance trying to ensure those with mobility issues are able to access the countryside like everyone else.
“But also my own personal experience as ward member, and that of the other members representing the Deeside strip with wards along the coastal path, is that we do have some very significant issues with motorcycles.
“We’re made aware by police that this is facilitating the movement of drugs and County Lines activity so we do need to take a pragmatic approach to this to try and balance ensuring accessibility to those in our community who unfortunately are not able to access things the way many of us are able to.
“But we also need to ensure we do not find ourselves in a position where it’s a free-for-all for those individuals who cause a lot of harm within our communities.
“Again, my interactions with North Wales Police show that this is very difficult to police because vehicle access to the coastal path is very limited, and we also need to ensure the people who use the coastal path feel safe doing so.”
Cllr Bibby also had concerns about what the impact criminal activities have on coastal rangers and staff working along the path.
The cabinet opted to note the findings of the review and backed scrutiny’s suggestion of wider consultation with users of the coastal path.