Bristol City Council 'looking into' lifting ban on harbour swimming

Campaigners have been staging 'splash mobs' to draw attention to the cause. Credit: Johnny Palmer / Swim Bristol Harbour

Bristol City Council has confirmed it is "looking into" lifting a ban on swimming in the harbour, but has stressed that it remains prohibited while early talks take place.

Despite growing pressure from campaigners, the local authority said 'trial swims' have not been offered and will not be until councillors have researched the safety measures needed.

There have been more than 70 water related incidents in the city in the past two years, of which 26 have resulted in serious injury or death.

Bristol City Council said swimming in the harbour "carries with it a serious risk of injury or death" and discourages anyone from doing it.

However in recent weeks, a campaign group has held demonstrations urging the authority to reconsider.

Johnny Palmer, who founded Swim Bristol Harbour, has organised multiple 'Splash Mobs' in the area to draw attention to the cause.

He believes the ban on swimming "is an ancient law that prevents the harbour being an accessible amenity for the community."

The group wants to see Cumberland Basin opened up to wild swimmers. Credit: Johnny Palmer / Swim Bristol Harbour

When first approached about the possibility of allowing swimmers into the harbour, Bristol City Council rejected any suggestion that it was being considered.

However, it seems councillors have now started to discuss ways in which it could work - but it doesn't look like it will be anytime soon.

A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “Swimming in the harbour is not allowed and carries with it a serious risk of injury or death. As a working harbour there are numerous risks to anyone entering the water.

"These include cold water shock, the movement of boats and other activities on the surface and many hidden dangers below the water line. We urge anyone who thinks that swimming in the harbour is a good idea to reconsider their actions and recognise the dangers involved.

"It’s important that we understand the safety measures that are employed by groups and authorities elsewhere to ensure that future harbour swimming takes place safely. This is a work in progress and we have offered to include interested parties in these discussions to inform a local plan.

“It’s important to stress however that these discussions are ongoing and swimming in the harbour remains dangerous and prohibited. No trial swims have been offered nor will any be considered whilst we continue to research the measures needed to ensure these can be carried out safely."

Avon Fire and Rescue Service reinforced the dangers of harbour swimming and said a "huge amount of our resources" are used when rescuing people who get into trouble.

"As emergency services continue to see increasing amounts of pressure, we discourage swimming in the harbour to avoid further water related incidents that could have been avoided and ensure that we can respond to those in need of our Services," a spokesperson said.

“By swimming in the harbour, the swimmers are setting a precedent for young people and children who may think it is safe to follow their lead.

"The tidal water in the harbour remains incredibly dangerous for even the most confident and with significant dangers such as the risk of cold water shock, underwater hazards and vessels in the water, we’d urge anyone who considers swimming in the harbour to think again, it is not safe."

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