A MARQUEE installed to provide outdoor space for a pub’s customers during the Covid period is at the centre of a row over access to a river.
More than 130 comments from members of the public have already been lodged with a council which is considering an application to keep the marquee that has been in place since the autumn of 2020 on a paved area, part of which is also used for storing boats.
Some users of the Wye claim the marquee is blocking access to steps leading to the water and a pontoon, where boats can be moored, and which they say is vital for rescue teams.
But Amanda Cooper, landlady of the Boat Inn in Chepstow, has said she has no wish to deny anyone access to the riverbank and that she has kept a corridor through the outdoor area leading to the steps.
Chepstow and District Yacht Club has objected to the planning application and said the area has provided safe winter storage for boats.
Its commodore James Boyce has told the council this has been “the custom for many years” and claimed keeping the marquee will mean “safe access to the river will be diminished”.
The 9m x 12m marquee is opposite the 234-year-old pub, which is located on The Back, and was put up when pubs were required to have social distancing measures in place.
Ms Cooper said she has used a café barrier and put up ‘keep clear’ signs to maintain a path to the steps and said: “There is a completely clear corridor to the steps and it is good 12 to 18 inches wider than the pontoon.
“I don’t want to stop any water sports and have no problem with any canoeists, kayakers or anyone else having access.”
She added her cleaners know to put tables back in place every morning if they find any have been moved across the access, but doubts anyone would refuse to move in an emergency.
“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I stopped someone from being rescued but if you were having fish and chips and a pint and there was a shout that somebody was being pulled off the river everyone would stop and muck in,” she said. “People wouldn’t stand there and say ‘I’m not moving’. It wouldn’t happen.”
Ms Cooper’s planning application to Monmouthshire County Council said the pub has had tables on the area for at least 15 years before she took over the tenancy in 2019. There are currently 25 wooden picnic tables in there, as well as radiant gas heating and caged supply canisters.
The application states the marquee was “professionally installed” and that string lighting and supporting posts were installed in 2021.
Among those to object are Aaron Freeman, of Parkend, north of Lydney, who said members of his family had ran the pub for the previous 10 years and that the area has been used for storing boats and accessing the river for more than 30 years.
He has told planners he has been involved in one of the “many” rescues launched from the pontoon, which floats to some 9.5m when the water level rises.
Mr Freeman said: “In 2014 I rescued a lost kayaker from the river, with a fierce outgoing tide. The gentleman thought he was upstream from Tintern, when he was actually very nearly in the Severn Estuary. Once off the river, he collapsed from exposure, and admitted that he was totally lost. This access is the very last point someone can get off the river safely!”
Chepstow resident Peter Kay said he acknowledged the marquee “gives a good atmosphere” but said if it is to remain it should be moved to ensure access to the pontoon.
He said he’d seen fire crews having to clear tables when responding to an emergency: “I have seen the Fire Service move multiple tables to create access to the pontoons in an emergency, currently the marquee is located in front of the access to the pontoons restricting emergency service access.
“If this planning application were to be accepted and access is restricted to the pontoons in an emergency this could cost some (sic) of their life.”
Ms Cooper said she had no knowledge of an incident with the fire service having to move tables.
Dr Toity Deave, of Tutshill, said she is a member of the Severn Area Rescue Association, and told planners: “The Boat Club pontoon is the only location where we can transfer a casualty to a waiting ambulance/emergency vehicle in the area or where a paramedic (for example) can board one of our lifeboats.
“Without that access we have to use the Beachley slip which leads to a long delay in care or expertise being available as well as exposing the casualty to the weather and a rough ride.”
She also said it the “only safe ingress/egress point on the Lower River Wye”.
A Mrs J Stephens, of Blakeney in Gloucestershire, said: “This is a beautiful part of Chepstow, the boat has made a tremendous effort to tidy up what was once a dumping ground for old boats has now turned into an enjoyable place to eat and bring along friends, which now has attracted the right clientele.”
Jerry Skuse of Chepstow has told the planners he supports the retention of the marquee and said: “We need businesses in Chepstow to thrive not close down so this planning application receives my full support.”
Katie Wiltshier, of Bristol, has said she is a kayaker who has used the marquee and found the landlady “very welcoming” and said: “There are no problems accessing the pontoon.”
There have also been objections the marquee is blocking the footpath in the area.