Leeds: Aire ownership riddle in river safety battle

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A new council-backed committee set up to tackle riverbank safety has found it difficult to established who owns many stretches of the city’s waterways.

The revelation was made by city leaders who are working together to reduce accidents and deaths along the River Aire and its subsidiaries.

The campaign follows the latest river death of 30-year-old Robert Stoner, from Swarcliffe, whose body was found close to Victoria Bridge on March 2.

Over the years several other people have died in the treacherous waters running through the city.

Leeds councillor Richard Lewis, executive member for development, is chairing the working party involving British Waterways, Aire Action and other interested parties.

An initial meeting has been held at Leeds Civic Hall, with another to take place soon.

Coun Lewis said: “There is no single black spot for accidents and deaths, so we have to look at the whole stretch of the river, though there are clearly places where people are unlikely to be late at night.

“We also looked at ownership which was useful, in that it identified that we have corporate owners like Asda and the council.

“But also places where the responsibility lies with the management committees of residential blocks, often leaseholders themselves whose primary concern is the upkeep of the buildings, and even places where the owner can’t be traced.

“It looks as if we’ll be inviting police, British Waterways who are responsible for the navigation of the river, representatives for bars and universities.

“This is a tragic and very serious issue and I feel strongly that we have a civic duty to do what we can to help ensure the safety of the citizens of Leeds.

“It is also a very complex issue in terms of who owns which parts of the waterfront.”

Rachel Clunas, of safety campaign group Aire Action Leeds, said: “It’s complex because there are different landowners and managers with responsibility for small sections.”

A year ago student Matthew Wilcox, 19, drowned in The Calls area after a night out. Student Gavin Terry, 19, was found in the Aire at Skelton Grange in March 2008.

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