Lagan Weir footbridge safety report / Irresponsible Drinks Promotions Regulations

Department for Social Development - DSD logoMinister for Social Development Nelson McCausland – whose department’s remit of “urban regeneration, community and voluntary sector development, social legislation, housing, social security benefits, pensions and child support” includes the safety of the bridges, drinks promotions and zipwires – released the final report  into the safety of the Lagan Weir footbridge this morning.

As well as raising money to buy sonar search equipment to help with any future underwater searches, the family of Joby Murphy have made repeated calls in the media for lifebuoys to be mounted on the bridge. The RPS report concludes that this is not appropriate and provides some reasons.

From the assessment it is RPS’ opinion that:

1. The bridge design meets current codes. There is no requirement for any structural modifications to the bridge or permanent safety features;

2. The current provision of life saving equipment at either side of the footbridge meets current codes and there is no requirement for any additional equipment.

3. The stationing of lifebuoys on the bridge itself is not an appropriate location. This is due to a number of issues with the operational weir. In the event that an individual in the water was able to grab a lifebuoy, it would not be possible to affect a rescue from the footbridge. This has been confirmed by Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service who advise that the best means of effecting a rescue is made either from the side or utilising the river boat in conjunction with trained personnel.

4. The report considers the current bridge design and control measures in place are adequate based on a risk assessment of the available information.

The RPS report goes on the outline a series of detailed reasons why life-saving equipment is not appropriate on the bridge itself. It quotes research from RoSPA and Cardiff University into the performance of life rings as well as the advice and experience of the NI Fire & Rescue Service.

A small number of “medium to low priority” recommendations “regarding preventative measures to reduce the risk of deliberate entry into the water” are suggested:

1. Develop and implement training of the weir operations and security staff and in particular those operating the CCTV systems to include awareness of suicide situations and other potentially dangerous behaviour occurring and how best to deal with them.

2. Supplement the existing warning signs by provision of additional signage to increase public perception of the dangers on the bridge and to include an appropriate contact number.

3. Enhance the CCTV system with a Tannoy public address system to make announcements and warnings. CCTV to be linked to PSNI control centre.

4. Investigate improving the communication system with addition of an emergency call point along the bridge and quayside areas. These could be similar to those already deployed in the Belfast city hall area, which are linked directly to a PSNI control centre. Call points could allow the users of the bridge who are in distress to contact Emergency Services and seek help or assistance, or allow users to raise an alarm for others who may be in distress.

This morning, DSD also launched a related consultation on its draft regulations to ban “irresponsible drinks promotions” in bars and clubs.

PROPOSED REGULATIONS

1. The Licensing (Irresponsible Drinks Promotions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012

The holder of a licence or their servant or agent are prohibited from carrying on an irresponsible drinks promotion by supplying unlimited amounts of intoxicating liquor for a fixed charge (including any charge for entry to the premises) on or in connection with their licensed premises.

2. The Licensing (Pricing Promotions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012

A package containing two or more intoxicating liquor products may only be sold by the licensee, their servant or agent on licensed premises at a price equal to or greater than the sum of the price at which each intoxicating liquor product is for sale on the licensed premises.

3. The Registration of Clubs (Irresponsible Drinks Promotions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012

A registered club is prohibited from carrying on an irresponsible drinks promotion by supplying unlimited amounts of intoxicating liquor for a fixed charge (including any charge for entry to the club premises) on or in connection with the registered club.

The consultation runs until 7 May 2012 and has already been backed by Belfast City Council and Alex Attwood.

Perhaps a small sign of local democratic success that a mere eight weeks after a tragic incident brings the issue of drinks promotions to public prominence, a devolved department is consulting on these regulations.

Yet this shouldn’t have needed to be a knee jerk reaction. The Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Act received Royal Assent on 29 March 2011. Why has it taken nearly 12 months to begin to roll out the regulations that will sit underneath it?

How often have the legislation’s “new powers to allow the closure, for up to 24 hours, of licensed premises or registered clubs by the courts where there is actual or likely disorder, or by the police where there is actual disorder” been used?

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