Bath river safety: growing concerns over number of deaths

Page 7 River Avon - Roman Boldyrev
There have been a series of tragic deaths in the past few years

There are growing concerns over the safety measures in place along the River Avon in Bath after a series of incidents occurred over the last year. The river claimed four lives in 2014, including that of Christopher Taylor who had been studying chemistry at the University of Bath. Last month marks a year since Taylor’s death but people remain apprehensive over how much has been done to make the river safer, as well as who, in fact, should be enforcing these river safety measures.

With half of these river deaths involving young people under the age of 25, there have been questions about the role of the University and the Students’ Union in educating students about river safety, particularly in cases where they may be intoxicated. The most significant part of the River Avon which has seen these incidences has been in Green Park, by Sainsbury’s, an area which many students walk through when travelling between the city and Oldfield Park both during the day and at night. The council’s river safety group has been working with the Student Community Partnership, with SU Community Officer Tommy Parker telling bathimpact, “River safety is something the Students’ Union has been working on closely with the council, Bath Spa and City of Bath College.

“The council have been looking into the safety along the river, putting in barriers and new life saving equipment along the river, whereas we have looked into how we can educate students about the danger of the river, but in a way that is both preventative and what to do if you do fall in the river.”

Since 2011 the council has spent approximately £500,000 on river safety measures and there are plans in place to spend a further £200,000 in the upcoming financial year. However, whether these measures have been enough is questionable, with the temporary fencing installed by the Environmental Agency in December not preventing the death of Sammuel Amin, who fell into the river in spite of the safety measures in place. The temporary fencing is, however, set to be replaced by the end of March with more permanent fencing and the addition of safety ladders (construction began at the beginning of February), which will hopefully be more effective in making the River Avon safer.

Bath and North East Somerset Council has, however, asked for landowners to take some responsibility for maintaining the safety measures in place around the river, with Cathryn Humphries, chairman of the council’s river safety group saying, “It’s the responsibility of the land owner to manage life-saving equipment.

“For example, the council is the land owner around Pulteney Weir in Bath. We have a number of lifesaving stations around that area, we maintain these, and have a system in place to make sure they are checked because unfortunately the lifesaving equipment gets vandalised.

“One thing that the river safety group has done is to write to private landowners and we have done that with Sainsbury’s to make them aware and they have to my knowledge co-operated with that.”

Yet Sainsbury’s does not appear to agree with this, with a spokesman for the supermarket chain saying that the firm’s lease on the land does not mention that the company is responsible for maintaining the emergency equipment. This unresolved issue is likely to hinder the council’s river safety plans, as they are relying on cooperation with the landowners in the area in terms of safety equipment. There has, however, been attempts to educate people – in particular, students – about river safety. Speaking about what the University has done since the events of last year, the SU Community Officer added, “We have changed how first years get informed about the river in Induction, ran a campaign day as a part of TH!NK week and there will be another campaign in the second semester.

“River safety is incredibly important, and we hope the steps we are taking can hopefully reduce the risk of another tragedy.”

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