The issue of outdoor swimming emerged in politics again recently when an MP pressed the government on its responsibility to increase the number of outdoor bathing locations.
Matthew Offord, the MP for Hendon in North London, recently asked a question to the Environment Minister on the government’s plans to increase the number of inland bathing locations, as required under European bathing water directives.
He has previously researched the EU directive as part of postgraduate studies, and noticed that the number of inland bathing locations has barely increased in the past fifteen years. While the minister replied that the government asks local authorities to review the situation each year, Offord is not convinced that the issue is being pursued with much enthusiasm.
‘Many of the lakes in Cumbria are not designated areas’, he points out. He also believes that the amount of sewage dumped in the Thames each year is a cause for concern.
‘It’s something that I’ve been interested in for a long time’, he says, believing that clean and accessible inland waterways are essential to the public’s ability to appreciate the countryside. He thinks a growing interest in outdoor swimming, as well as other aquatic activities like kayaking and canyoning, gives grounds for cautious optimism in the campaign for swimming rights – just as the growing popularity of surfing over the past twenty years has focused interest on sea water quality.
‘Not long ago people just wanted to go and look at rivers. Nowadays they are quite keen to actually get in to them,’ he says. He has a personal interest in outdoor swimming and other watersports, but believes the issue is one that will affect everyone, not just water users.
‘How can people look at other environmental issues and then ignore water quality? It’s important both for agriculture and for the tourism industry,’ he argues, and plans to continue to raise concerns.
Matthew Offord’s questions follow on from the questions MPs previously asked regarding access to the Serpentine last winter – and the prime minister himself is also said to be keen on outdoor swimming. So though the issue may sometimes be pushed out of the limelight, it seems there is hope for the future.
(First published on the Outdoor Swimming Society website)