Stop swimming at Shadwell Basin asks Mayor. Meh, reply swimmers

Mayor John Biggs has asked the numerous people who come from all over east and south London to swim in Shadwell Basin to please not do it.

The Mayor visited Shadwell Basin today – LW visited Shadwell Basin yesterday and made this little video to illustrate the nature of the problem.

Despite Shadwell Basin being a very dangerous place to swim the hot weather has lured hundreds of people to Brussels Wharf.

Other anti-swimming measures include:

  • New CCTV and warning signage installed.
  • Swimmers encouraged to use Tower Hamlets swimming pools
  • Tower Hamlets enforcement officer patrols stepped up
  • Royal Life Saving Society backs campaign

Our video was shot around 5pm. On a weekend there are much larger numbers of people present. As we walked towards the Basin to fill we saw several groups of people getting off the Overground at Wapping and walking to the Basin.

SBOAC fighting a (unpaid) losing battle

Until recently the nearby Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activities Centre (SBOAC) was the only organisation doing anything to prevent the swimmers swamping their pontoon with a complete lack of interest shown by the council.

SBOAC have installed a new pontoon gate and lock to stop people accessing the water from the dockside to the pontoon but someone has been using an angle grinder to cut through the new gate.

There is a real risk that the pontoon will become overloaded with swimmers and will turn over and people will be killed.

The wildlife that lives on Shadwell Basin is also being disrupted by idiot swimmers using the floating raft in the middle of the basin to sunbathe on.

Mike Wardle who runs the SBOAC sent the email below to the council on 19th July and also raised this issue at the recent SNT Ward Panel meeting.

Problem with Shadwell Basin – Mike Wardle

1. Use of our sailing pontoon on Shadwell Basin.

This happens every year but this year it has been the worst. There has been increased numbers due to prolonged good weather, sunbathing on it and swimming. At times there has been nearly 80 people on it.

This pontoon is for emergency access, use by disabilities accessing the activities and sailing sessions. It is thin concrete on top but is only really meant for a maximum of 30 people but we usually keep it to 20. It is held by chains and ropes but recently there has been movement in the overall structure due to the mass of people using it.

The times it has large numbers on it, especially in sunny weather is between 2pm and 9pm daily but most of it is at weekends. The recent erecting of the marine gate meant last weekend people seemed to think it was a challenge to get to the pontoon. They were swimming the 50m from the nearest ladder to get there.

2. Damage and costs to the sailing pontoon

The continued overuse of the sailing pontoon is causing damage which costs our charity hundreds of pounds. This is mostly unintentional but also more recently and more worrying intentional criminal damage has been done.

The first small gate we had was cut use a battery operated metal grinder which must have been bought from home by someone. This happened at a weekend a few weeks ago. Then the padlock to the new marine gate was cut by the same method on weekend of July 14th and 15th.

We check the anchors of the sailing pontoon several times a week but my worry is that this person will cut the anchors as a joke and cause a very serious accident which could come from the pontoon overturning under weight.

3. Staff time and finance

The charity has been here for 42 years delivering activities to the community and uses its funds to keep Shadwell Basin clean and respectable. It costs £28,000 to keep the water clean in electricity and servicing of the aeration system and staff time. Recent cuts by the Council of £25,000 in 2017 has made a serious dent in our budget.

The Council now gives the charity £5,000 for diversionary activities with the Charity giving an 80% subsidy to young people. This makes our operations stretched even further than normal when lots of people come to use the water.

4. Unlicensed, unsupervised open water LIDO or free for all

The Council passed through planning in 2017 a well organised and presented plan to have a structured LIDO on one part of the basin for open water swimming which was a joint venture from the Turks Head charity and Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre. This included supervision of the LIDO and the basin itself.

The lease for this facility and cafe was recently rejected by Council officers who claimed it was not in their recreational plan. It was strange and contradictory at the time that there was a consultation on recreational water space in Tower Hamlets that was done. It recommended investment in Shadwell Basin as it was an important recreational space for all. The cutting of funding and rejection of the a lease seems to undermine this report.

To this affect and now, we have a un-licensed, unsupervised water recreational outdoor park or swimming LIDO operating at weekends with 100’s of people using it.

One of my worries is that a member of the charities staff will run over a swimmer in the water when they are doing safety cover for sailing sessions with our powerboat.

5. Jumping from the Glamis Road bridge

Over the past years my staff have risked their own lives saving suicide cases from jumping off the bridge (at least one a year) as well as people falling into the basin. Whereas most people who jump off the bridge thank fully do not fall into this category they are taking a risk with theirs and others lives. We access the basin by going under the bridge. It will only be a matter of time when a bridge jumper lands on a kayak or canoe with a young person in it which could lead to a serious accident or worse.

Whereas I applaud the action that is now being taken as regards sending THEO’s down on Saturday this weekend, there remit is no different from what the charity staff and volunteers have been doing for years if no penalty notices are to be handed out.

I would like to conclude by saying that if there is no proper action resulting in some structured supervision of Shadwell Basin we will have another accident by the end of this summer. What I hope in my heart is that it will not a fatal one like last year.

A final request to all involved is please consult the experienced experts before action is taken as so often policy is driven by desk mandarins who understand ideas but not implementation and not consequences of actions.

LW Comment

Finally Tower Hamlets council is taking some responsibility for Shadwell Basin but probably only due to the pressure by Mike Wardle.

Reality is that Mike and his team at SBOAC have been trying to police the swimming at the basin for years – despite having their funding cut by £25,000.

We wonder where that £25k went?

It would be a good idea to give SBOAC that money back in recognition of the amazing work they are doing, both teaching people to sail and stopping others from drowning.


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