Swimmers rally to keep ‘beautiful’ marine lake open to the public

Wirral swimmers are rallying to keep their ‘beautiful’ marine lake open to the public after £40m development plans were revealed.

Swimmers in New Brighton Marine Lake have raised concerns about the future of free public access as the lake is the centre of different proposals by Wirral Council that make up its masterplan for the waterfront.

The plan will help guide developments on the Wirral over the next two decades as part of its draft local plan. Various different proposals for the waterfront include new hotels, terraces, spas, and other facilities as well as a new lido or outdoor swimming pool in the lake that could cost up to £40m.

The marine lake is approaching its 90th anniversary and for those who swim there on a daily basis, it is one of the last historic features of a town that lost its iconic swimming baths, its tower, and pier.

According to the council, a new lido was “by far the most suggested idea” with 60% suggesting this and 90% agreeing it was a good idea.

While they’re not against the plans, the Friends of New Brighton Marine Lake are concerned the lido might restrict their access to the lake. Members of the group swim in the lake nicknamed the “duck pond” on a daily basis, even during the recent Storm Babet.

It’s understood there are no plans to restrict access to the lake in the future. The document said the lido “still leaves a significant body of water, and the potential for future leisure use, perhaps for longer open water swims, or even reintroduction of rented small boats as part of a leisure attraction to this space.”

However, a rally of more than 100 swimmers took place on 15 October as they criticised the draft masterplan which said “the use of the Marine Lake has dwindled and is now occasionally used by swimmers or people crabbing from the walls.”

A new aqua park opened in the lake in 2021 run by Wild Shore but later permanently closed. However, the swimmers felt this section of the report “played down the importance of the lake” and “undermines the credibility” of the plan.

Swimmers in New Brighton’s marine lake. Credit: Edward Barnes

Graham Bell said, “The lake is really well used. In the summer, there were loads of families using the lake with kayaks, paddle boards as well as swimmers.

“The reason for swimming in the lake is both the tides in the river but also the pollution so having the lake is a good back up.

“It’s a worry for us we wouldn’t have the access that we have now. That is the concern but we do appreciate it is such a good facility and we would like more people to use it more.

“These are things we should be proud of in the area. We are so lucky to have this. These things have to remain because it’s what makes it so attractive.”

Kev Quinn said, “For me, New Brighton and the marine lake here could be more a community park and we wouldn’t expect people who come to a park to pay for it all the time. Everything seems to be geared towards making money. The lido will price people out rather than pulling them in.”

Tim Brunsden said, “A lot of stuff has been lost in New Brighton and it seems there is a bit of fatigue of things happening and then not happened. It’s a positive thing and we do not have to lose it.

“It’s a fantastic lake, it’s an amazing facility for us and everyone to use.”

For the swimmers it has wider benefits too. Sandy Riley said, “The community is here for people that are living alone, the friendships that have been built. It’s got people through lockdown.”

The council is seeing the lido as a long-term goal that won’t be delivered for at least 10 years. In the meantime, the group wants to see the lake sorted out pulling out rusted shopping trolleys, fences, and holding mass clean-ups.

They’ve also been trying to get in touch with the council for advice on how to make it safer to swim and carry out a number of steps to improve the area from a shower, a shelter to change in, and look at engaging young people in the area.

They are looking to raise money towards this including applying for Heritage Lottery funding but also don’t want the marine lake itself neglected in the masterplan.

The main concern is if a fee is charged or easy access from the car park is lost, this may deter people from trying open water swimming arguing that “as a community asset you could do these things.”

Tim said, “People use this through the winter all the way through. If you have to pay, you won’t pay to go in for a minute.”

Chris Shaw regularly takes people swimming far out in the Mersey but trains people up in the lake including 30 to 50 people for the Cross Mersey swim.

He said, “I understand the need to generate income but when it comes to community development and encouraging people, there’s some things you need to pay for but it’s also about keeping that community healthy.”

He added, “It’s about keeping it free to encourage community participation. We are not all for some big protest against the council. It’s about making sure they don’t forget about us.”

Wirral Council declined to comment as it relates to an ongoing public consultation. The consultation and the full masterplan can be found on the council’s Have Your Say website

Image credit: Ed Barnes

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