Swimmers will be charged £7 an hour to take a dip in Bristol’s harbour every weekend from April with the money paying for lifeguards, safety boats, and water quality sampling.
The pilot project will run every Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 10am, from April 29 until May 28.
Up to 80 people will be allowed to swim in each one-hour session, which will have to be booked in advance online.
A 200-metre course will be cordoned off in the Baltic Wharf, with an access ramp in front of the Cottage pub. Bristol City Council is launching the pilot after growing calls last year to scrap an unpopular ban on swimming in the harbour and the River Avon.
Writing on his blog, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said: “To make sure we can offer an area that is safe to swim there must be measures in place to ensure the health and safety of all harbour users.
"This means having an area of our harbour cordoned off to create a course specifically for swimming which can be safely accessed.
“There will be lifeguards and safety boats to help keep people using the swimming facility safe. Otherwise, it remains unsafe to swim in the harbour or other waterways in Bristol, as we continue to highlight through safety campaigns and signage around the docks.”
Swimmers gathered outside City Hall in October to protest against the council’s bylaws, which they say was the last obstacle in getting the Environment Agency to clean up a popular swimming spot further down the river.
The Conham Bathing Group is trying to apply for bathing water status at Conham River Park, but currently can’t due to the bylaw.
Conham River Park is a popular spot for wild swimming in the summer, despite sometimes suffering from pollution as Wessex Water releases raw sewage into the river, which can cause illnesses.
Thousands petitioned the council to scrap the bye-law and help the campaigners apply for bathing water status, which would mean the river getting cleaner.
Becca Blease, of the Conham Bathing Group, tweeted: “Now I see where our river pollution campaign went wrong when we asked the council to support an application for bathing water status, and were rejected. We clearly didn’t present it as a business opportunity.”
The £7 fee to swim for an hour is more expensive than most of Bristol’s swimming pools. Bristol South swimming pool, for example, charges £5.40 an hour, and Easton Leisure Centre charges £5.15 an hour.
Meanwhile, swimming at Conham River Park is free, although there are no lifeguards.
Mr Rees added: “The small charge allows us to have in place the necessary water safety provisions. In the meantime, stay out of the harbour and swim at one of our city’s many pools.
“This trial will allow us to assess whether or not we can provide a designated open water swimming area that is safe and financially sustainable - this is pertinent given the current financial challenges faced by the council in general and the harbour in particular.
"Throughout the pilot we will monitor costs, up-take, and any impact on our ability to maintain a safe environment throughout our harbour.”
Credit: Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service