VISITORS to Holy Island have given their backing to a pilot scheme aimed at reducing the number of people getting stranded and having to be rescued from the causeway.
New technology was trialled over the two-week Easter period in a bid to provide drivers with better warnings and prevent them from getting trapped by the incoming tide.
It involved an electronic variable message sign (VMS) which warns motorists to check the tide tables and see when it is safe to cross, before driving onto the causeway.
Now county councillors have been told that face-to-face interviews carried out with visitors on the island have resulted in positive feedback on the trial – which is set to be followed by a more sophisticated version of the system this summer.
Of the 89 people interviewed, 87 said they had noticed the VMS sign and 81 felt it was an effective warning system for drivers.
Eighteen felt the flashing sign had a positive impact on the local landscape, 22 said it had a negative impact and 49 didn’t have an opinion either way.
Of the 89 visitors spoken to, 85 said they had checked the safe crossing times on the internet or elsewhere before going to the island, and only four had driven over the causeway without checking first.
Northumberland County Council’s sustainable transport officer, Mike Scott, said the early feedback was a “positive result”, with more data still to come in from businesses on the island. “It is a trial and we are now looking to implement something as soon as we can,” he added.
Executive member for infrastructure and the environment, Isabel Hunter, said it was important to find out why some people were still driving over the causeway without checking whether it was safe. “We have to do further work on all of this but so far the feedback from visitors has been very positive,” she added.
The Easter pilot scheme was suggested by a working group set up by the council to examine way of preventing cars getting stuck on the causeway and their occupants having to be rescued by the emergency services.
The aim is now to install more complex and interactive variable message signs during the summer to advise motorists of tide times and when the causeway is shut. These would be wind or solar powered.
As well as the VMS, the council is redesigning the tide timetables available on the island and at other locations, including its the website, to make them clearer, and will also be developing an mobile phone app to complement the website information.
The working group – which includes representatives from Northumbria Police, the coastguard, the RNLI and county and parish councils – was set up last year amid growing concern and anger over the number of rescues having to be carried out on the causeway. It rejected calls for barriers to be erected at the ends of the causeway, saying they would be “unreliable and impractical.”
Islanders had earlier collected a 148-name petition opposing the idea, claiming no locals had ever been stuck on the causeway but they would be most affected by barriers.