HOUSEBOAT owners at Bembridge Harbour are opposing plans to slot more boats between existing ones.

Bembridge Houseboats Association said its main concern was increased fire risk.

Association chairman Jeremy Gully said: "Fire on board a houseboat is every owner's nightmare.

"Salutary lessons should have been learned in recent years after serious fires on Rinjstroom and Zambezi, yet it appears the Harbour Authority wants to cram nine more boats in between existing ones, seemingly oblivious to the real dangers of fire spread and potential loss of property, or even life.

"When the fire service attended a fire that totally destroyed the old Zambezi, close neighbour Bryher II had to be hosed down to cool it, yet the proposals include putting another boat in that very gap, and some of the proposed new plots are in even smaller gaps.

"There may be room for a few more without taking silly risks, but this proposal seems surprisingly ill-thought through, and even reckless, particularly coming from a responsible statutory body such as a harbour authority."

Malcolm Thorpe, of Bembridge Harbour Authority, responded: "Once again Mr Gully is distorting matters and diverting attention away from the primary issues relating to the harbour based houseboats.

"Fire hazards and safety provisions are an issue whether on a water-borne houseboat or a building on land. However there are two dozen houseboats that pump raw sewage directly into the harbour.

"We are offering to install sewage treatment systems in all such houseboats, by applying for a Lawful Development Certificate to regularise the historical status of the older houseboats, followed by a planning application for infill plots to include an obligation to design and install these new systems free of charge by the Harbour Authority.

"The estimated costs of £180,000 will be met by the newly allocated houseboat plots with any excess going towards buying a dredger."

Houseboat owner Penelope Walford opposes the proposed regularisation of houseboats, insisting they are already secure in their lawful use.

In a letter to the County Press, she said: "This planning route has the advantage of sidestepping the need for public consultation, so when it comes to applying for the necessary consent for new houseboats, there will be no need to worry about inconvenient details such as environmental impact, parking etc, and crucially fire risk."

Bembridge Parish Council opposed the planning application at their latest meeting.