THE SWIMMING BAN AT BLACK PARK

Mrs Margaret Dewar - Bucks County Council Cabinet Member for Community Services - took the decision to ban swimming in Black Park Lake in April 2002 following a safety audit and after consulting the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

In June 2001 a man drowned in Black Park Lake apparently after falling out off a rowing boat. The consumption of alcohol was alleged to have played a part. In a previous incident in July 1996 a man drowned for no apparent reason. Both incidents happened outside a designated swimming area.

The Council centred their argument for banning swimming on advice they received from the HSE's local office at Basingstoke following the second drowning:

  • The Council either needs to provide adequate lifeguard provision or take measures to discourage people from swimming in the lake.
  • Unless the Council discourages swimming effectively, the lake is little different from an open air swimming pool.
  • In the event of another drowning the HSE would find it difficult to avoid proceeding with legal action against the Council if there was no supervision by lifeguards
The HSE regional office at Basingstoke refused to modify their advice to the Council following the judgement in the Tomlinson case.
Even more remarkable was the stand they took following the judicial review brought by the Hampstead Heath Winter Swimming Club in April 2005 [More] and the HSE own revised scope of HSG179 - 'Managing health and safety in swimming pools'. [More] Here again the message from Basingstoke was consistent:
'Neither judgement impact on the advice we gave to the Council'
However, under pressure from us, the HSE backed down. Although they abandoned their claim that 'nothing has changed' they refused to confirm or deny that the Council is under no obligation to ban swimming at the Lake. The HSC guidelines specify that operators of open water venues are exempted from a duty to provide lifeguards as long as swimming is not 'actively encouraged'. It does not have to be actively discouraged.

Having run out of excuses for not lifting the ban BCC Countryside and Heritage Group decided to recommend to the elected members of the Council that the ban should be maintained on the grounds of two new arguments:
1) A Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) proposed 'model byelaws' which, allegedly prohibit bathing in watercourses.
2) 'Giving further consideration to the (BCC) existing County Parks byelaws'. We can only assume that this argument refers to Byelaw 18 which deals with bathing in the Council's county parks.

DEFRA's Helpline could not find any reference to 'model bylaws' nor does the Government, or any of its departments operate an anti open water swimming policy.
Whatever the DEFRA 'model bylaws' are, they are clearly irrelevant to the legality of swimming at Black Park Lake. There are several examples where unsupervised swimming is permitted in country parks managed by local authorities (e.g. South Lakeland District Council, Gwynedd Council and others) - a situation identical to Black Park.
In the case of the County Parks byelaw, this arguments is actually misleading. Byelaw 18 reads:

No person, unless authorised by the Council, shall in the Parks:
1) Bathe, wade in or enter any lake, pool or stream.
2) Row, scull, sail or paddle or operate any boat
3) Fish in any such lake, pool or stream
Provided that this byelaw shall not be deemed to apply to Black Park Lake between 8 a.m. in the morning and half an hour after sunset.


A report which includes these recommendations by the Countryside and Heritage Group, together with a letter stating our point of view, are due to be distributed to the elected members of the Council shortly. This will be followed by a vote.
Please contact your councillor if you live in the area and put to him/her your own arguments as to why the ban on swimming in the lake should now be lifted.
[7th May 06]

A report titled
'Swimming at Black Park -
How the children lost their beach'

is available on request. The report traces the events which led to the swimming ban, shows how the public was mislead over the need to impose it and much more.
To order please email to yacovlev@hotmail.com giving your name, organisation (if applies), and postal address.