RNLI sails into storm over boat-house plans

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The Independent Online
JAMES CUSICK

Lyme Regis in Dorset yesterday became the latest seaside town in Britain to protest over the Royal National Lifeboat Institution's plans to replace its lifeboat houses.

On the historic Cobb, one of Britain's famous seaside landmarks, local protesters gathered and carried banners attacking the RNLI plans, which they claim will destroy the town's architectural heritage.

The RNLI is planning to build a modern mini-headquarters which would directly overlook the Cobb, blocking some sea views. The protest against the plans, which will go before a planning committee at Bridport on Thursday, is the latest in a series of nation-wide demonstrations against new RNLI buildings.

In 1991, the wealthy philanthropist, Eugenie Boucher, left pounds 4m to the RNLI. The lifeboat charity opted to spend the money on improving or replacing the numerous RNLI boat-houses throughout the United Kingdom.

Since work began the furore caused by both the buildings designs and often the scale and location of the new boat-houses has caused friction with local communities angry that heritage - and often their seaview - is being destroyed.

Before yesterday's demonstration, there had also been angry protests at Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast, Newquay and St Ives in Cornwall, Ilfracombe in Devon, Hastings in East Sussex, Largs on the west coast of Scotland and at Cromer on the north coast of Norfolk.

In Lyme Regis the RNLI is planning to build a boat shed, offices, crew rooms and a shop on a site overlooking the Cobb.

Protesters carried placards stating: "Our Space is important" and "Save our Cobb". One resident, Charlotte Jack, who joined in yesterday's protest, said: "Every time we look at a revision of the plans, they seem to get bigger and bigger. It is an outrage that this beautiful historic place is being treated so disgracefully by the RNLI. Nobody can object to an organisation which has, as its prime purpose, the saving of lives. But after the Boucher bequest they have behaved appallingly."

After the Cobb protest yesterday some of the local residents were involved in scuffles with members of the local power boat club who support the RNLI plans. Miss Jack claimed she had been threatened by one member of the club and told she should leave Lyme Regis.

The RNLI has said in the past that it regretted the controversies. A spokesman recently commented: "We have 216 lifeboat stations. Historically, they have always been at the centre of coastal villages in areas that are now very sensitive.

"Unfortunately, modern boats are bigger and more sophisticated and their crews need room to train. So the facilities have had to get bigger."

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