THE SCANDAL OF UK's TIDAL POOLS

After seventy odd years of faithful service to the Cornish community and an excellent safety record we were told that the Bude Sea Pool has, overnight, become a death trap. Has it finally given in to the battering waves? Has it become exposed to tidal currents or filled with soft, treacherous mud? Worse than that - the pool has been subjected to an internal Health and Safety Risk Assessment as a result of which it now has to undergo major modification, be made physically inaccessible when not officially open and, until recently (Jan 2005), faced a threat of being closed down altogether. Thanks to massive public support, the future of the Bude pool seems secure. However, many similar pools have already been lost. What happened at Bude tells the story of the Scandal of UKs Tidal Pools.



The Bude Pool in North Cornwall is a crude man-made enclosure which fills with seawater at high tide to provide uninterrupted, safe swimming (safer than the sea, that is). Many thousands of visitors use the pool every year. There has not been a serious accident in it for at least twenty years.

Why then did the Risk Assessment condemn it? The answer lies within the pages of the Health and Safety Commision publication 'Managing health and safety in swimming pools - a guideline for pool operators'. The publication, often referred to as the Blue Book, was written with indoor public baths in mind with limited application to segregated open water bathing areas. Nevertheless, its most stringent set of requirements have often been applied to open water sites. This extension of the guidelines is usually justified by the fact that bathing in open water is more dangerous than in an indoor pool and that the Blue Book is the only standard available. The fact that this led to the closure of innumerable traditional bathing sites and affected the quality of life of millions of people seemed to be of little concern.
The health and safety report identified a number of features of the Bude Pool which did not meet Blue Book requirements. These were mainly water clarity, slippery surfaces and lack of provisions for keeping the public out when the pool is not officially open. Not surprisingly, the North Cornwall District Council (NCDC), intimidated by the risk of prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and allegedly acting on the advice of the HSE and an independent health and safety adviser, closed the pool at the beginning of the 2004 season. Following an eruption of public anger they entered into a process of consultations and later re-opened the pool for the remainder of the season under the supervision of a small army of lifeguards.


Beach reality - one or two lifeguards often supervise vast expanses of beach and water. Supervision in tidal pools is far more effective

We submitted our case to the HSE for their comments and, not for the first time (see the Black Park report), were encouraged by their down to earth attitude. In a letter dated 15th November 2004 Mr Timothy Walker, the HSE's Director General, assured us that 'HSE has no wish to curtail the use of tidal pools such as that at Bude'. He confirmed that these pools 'offer great benefit to local communities by providing a good alternative to swimming in the open sea'.
Furthermore, the HSE have recently (March 2005) responded sympathetically when we raised this issue with the Government and informed us that they are planning to issue clarifications as to how the 'Blue Book' guidelines are to be applied in 'non-standard' circumstances such as open water.
Clearly it was not the HSE who were being unreasonable but those who put their own interpretation on the health and safety legislations - local safety officers, health and safety advisers and others who stand to gain from waving the health and safety batons.
By disregarding the transformation in the legal climate brought about by the Tomlinson and other cases these individuals and organisations have simply given credence to the accusation that they are a law unto themselves. Moreover, the threat posed to the Bude Pool suggests that, in the course of following their narrow interests, they are even prepared to sacrifice our health and safety.


Tidal paddling pools like this one in New Brighton had to be breached in the name of health and safety. Now children regularly paddle in the river only yards away from treacherous currents.
Is this what Common Law would regard as a 'reasonable' measure to protect the young?

Tidal pools were built in order to offer visitors to the seaside non-tidal bathing facilities and keep them away from some of the most treacherous bathing conditions anywhere. Tidal currents, endless expanses of water for children in inflatables to get lost in, breakers, soft mud, slippery rocks, turbid water and endless shore lines which rule out effective supervision have rendered these pools true safe havens. Indeed, serious accidents inside tidal pools were negligible when compared with those outside them. Yet, health and safety officials, for no better reason than the lack of a standard which would reflect the unique character of tidal pools, have chosen to advise local authorities which took any steps to maintain them, to comply with Blue Book standards. Unable to meet some of these requirements (e.g water clarity, unrealistic staffing levels) local authorities were often left with no option other than to breach the pool walls and abandon the rest of the structure.
In our opinion, sea pools should be evaluated in their context ("safer than the sea and therefore to be encouraged") rather than in absolute terms (i.e "unsafe") thus ignoring the fact that if a sea pool goes people are more likely to use the less safe sea. Obviously, closing sea pools promotes neither the health nor the safety of the public.
Beach reality - water clarity is irrelevant when the lifeguard can hardly see the water. Some bathers, including young children, will venture out across the banks to reach the water at low tide. Tidal pools are a much safer alternative.

The senseless attack by the health and safety industry on tidal pools was another step in a move to tighten their grip on the final bastion of unregulated swimming the sea. Hopefully, the most recent High Court ruling in the Judicial Review brought by the London ponds (April 2005) will, once and for all, remove the danger of 'No Swimming' signs appearing on our shorelines and pave the way for re-opening lost tidal pools.





By stark contrast to the unique situation in the UK the rest of the world makes good use of tidal pools to provide the public with safe, low maintenance and free places to swim. For example, The Australian state of New South Wales has around a hundred ocean baths on the open coast. Many of these are unfenced and available for use at all hours. Very few have admission charges.
Click here
  for more information.