A rise in anti-social behaviour is behind the planned banning of swimming at Grantchester Meadows, King’s College Cambridge said yesterday (July 1).
It claims that intoxicated swimmers pose a ‘risk to life’, while increased use of the beauty spot is causing the riverbank to erode.
News of the impending ban on bathing and water sports was circulated to local residents through a Newnham Liberal Democrats letter from Cambridgeshire County Council leader Lucy Nethsingha.
King’s College has given three key reasons for the new restrictions, which it claims have been developed in consultation with representatives of local councils, and ‘at the behest of the local elected representatives’. It was not immediately clear which representatives King’s was referring to.
Meanwhile a petition to keep access to Grantchester Meadows open to all has soared past 6,000 signatures since it was started yesterday (July 1), with residents making their strong feelings known.
Though the land has been owned by the college for centuries, residents say it has been an asset of community value for just as long, being one of the closest areas of natural beauty to Cambridge.
One commenter wrote: “I have been visiting Grantchester from Cambridge by both river and foot for over 60 years.
“In particular during the past 18 months during these very difficult times a walk across the Meadows (for me), or a paddle board or punt by river for family members has given us great solace.
“It saddens me to think that King’s could contemplate denying locals access to this stretch of water.
In response, the college explained the thinking behind the controversial decision.
It said: “Unfortunately, Grantchester Meadows has become a frequent site for large gatherings of individuals entering the River Cam under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, and subsequently requiring medical assistance.
“Sadly it has become increasingly apparent that this not only causes significant problems for the emergency services, but also brings with it a serious risk to life.
“As such it would be irresponsible for the college to continue to encourage swimming in an area where it is unsafe to do so.”
One solution it proposes is for the council to install “safe-swimming points” along the Cam.
Secondly, King’s points to “a large number of reports from local residents about those bringing watercraft to the Cam through the Meadows and being very unsociable – blocking local roadways and drives, being rude to local residents and also discarding their punctured vessels.
“As we have seen far too often over the summer, this kind of antisocial behaviour reduces everyone’s enjoyment of the meadows and poses a significant threat to the local wildlife.”
The third reason given by the college is erosion of the river bank over the past 18 months, a concern shared by Cllr Nethsingha to Newnham residents.
King’s College said: “Both the county council and Cam Valley Forum have raised serious concerns about erosion to the riverbank along Grantchester Meadows, and the effect this is now also having on the public footpath.
“This erosion is in large part due to people entering and exiting the river, or improperly mooring their vessels to the bank.”
The college, Cambridge’s third richest, added: “We fully appreciate that swimming in the Cam is a popular activity and has numerous benefits for physical and mental health.
“The college has no desire to prevent anyone from sensibly exercising their right to swim in the Cam, or to navigate the Cam by kayak, punt or other vessel – indeed, we wholeheartedly wish that the meadows will be used and enjoyed respectfully by all.
“Nevertheless, we cannot in good conscience give our consent to these activities continuing as they currently are, with the evident dangers they pose to life, the consequences they have for others’ use of the meadows, and the damage they are causing to the physical integrity of the land.”
It said it would continue to work with Grantchester Parish Council, Newnham Councillors, and residents to manage the situation.
However, the recent petition said the presentation of the new rules “feels very much like the gown dismissing the town,” and countered that there are other options.
Thousands of signatories are calling for a public consultation in which all users of the river can “review the proposed action, and discuss workable solutions that meet the environmental, community and landowner needs without the need for stringent measures.”
It is not yet clear how the new measures will be policed, and whether they apply to punting tours from Cambridge.