Could people soon be allowed to swim in Bristol Harbour?

Swimming in the harbour and the river Avon in the city is currently banned under a council bylaw Credit: Johnny Palmer

A safe swimming spot could be piloted next year in the harbour as pressure mounts on Bristol City Council to scrap unpopular rules banning swimmers.

Swimming in the harbour and the river Avon in the city is currently banned under a council bylaw.

But this ban could be lifted, according to Bristol mayor Marvin Rees, responding to recent calls from campaigners and thousands of petitioners to make wild swimming safer.

Last month swimmers gathered outside City Hall to call on the council to scrap the bylaw and support plans to apply for bathing water status at Conham River Park. The Conham Bathing group said the byelaw was the final obstacle in getting their application sent off.

Mr Rees said: “We know many people want the opportunity to enjoy open water safely.

"We have therefore listened to people’s requests for a safe swimming space in the harbour, and are actively working to make this request a reality, with a view to piloting something next year.

"We’re currently working through operational requirements to enable this, and will share more details on these plans shortly.”

The mayor recently revealed details of the pilot in a late written response to a petition presented at a full council meeting on October 18.

He chose not to respond to the petition during that meeting, although Labour councillors appeared to support the campaigners.

Pictures from a campaign against swimming in the harbour last year Credit: Bristol Water Safety Partnership

Lifting the swimming ban could take another two years, according to the mayor. Without the ban, the council is concerned it could be legally liable if any swimmers came to harm.

Safety risks include cold water shock, getting hit by a boat, strong currents, illness and infection.

Mr Rees added: “We have been asked to review and remove the bylaws that prohibit swimming.

"This cannot be done in isolation, however, the legislation to our harbour estate will be reviewed in the next couple of years, and I have asked this be considered as part of that process.”

The main issue for swimmers at Conham River Park, a popular wild swimming spot in east Bristol, is pollution. Wessex Water regularly pumps untreated sewage into the river, causing harmful levels of faecal bacteria to enter the water.

If Conham River Park was officially granted bathing water status by the Environment Agency, that would lead to tighter rules, inspectors checking water quality, and hopefully preventing sewage from polluting the river.

The council, which owns that stretch of the river, previously told campaigners it couldn’t support their application due to the bylaw banning swimming.

Water quality in the Cumberland Basin and near the SS Great Britain is excellent, according to the latest test results, with very low levels of E.Coli bacteria.

The council monitors water quality at several sites in the harbour for bacteria. Test results show that other sites, like near the Bristol Bridge and Netham Lock, have poor water quality and very high levels of E.Coli.

Credit: Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporter