Divers fear for sport's future

DIVERS have spoken out after managers of a popular East Anglian site have suspended the underwater sport amid safety concerns.Managers of Alton Water, near Ipswich, stopped diving in the reservoir in April after concerns were raised about the safety of a submerged platform used for training.

DIVERS have spoken out after managers of a popular East Anglian site have suspended the underwater sport amid safety concerns.

Managers of Alton Water, near Ipswich, stopped diving in the reservoir in April after concerns were raised about the safety of a submerged platform used for training.

The Health and Safety Executive, with the backing of Babergh District Council, has now confirmed that divers can use the platform as long as risk assessments are carried out and signs are erected saying that divers use it at their own risk.

However, diving remains suspended at Alton Water, subject to a management meeting within the next two weeks.


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The platform, which is built of scaffold poles welded together and boards, was constructed and put into the reservoir by the North East Essex Sub Aqua Club, after it gained permission from the company and Anglian Water, which owns the site.

Mick Holland, secretary of the Essex club, which is part of the British Sub Aqua Club, complained no-one has confirmed when, or if, the dive ban will be lifted.

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And he said he was concerned that there were plans afoot to make the reservoir only a sailing and windsurfing venue.

He said: "I want them to tell me that it's definitely banned and then I can raise the issue and raise the stakes a bit.

"Alton Water has been in use as a diving location for a number of years. About three years ago we built a platform for under the water, which is there for diving on.

"Alton Water has a slightly silty bottom and when you're at the very bottom doing the training skills you have to do, a kick at the bottom creates bad visibility.

"We built the platform, which is a metre off the bottom and in seven metres of water.

"It's quite a construction and the idea was that then people can do the skills on the platform and it makes it a lot safer as the instructors can see you and you can see the instructor.

"Somebody a few months ago raised the issue that it was unsafe. The Health and Safety Executive cleared it but Alton Water has said they are not satisfied.

"We are now in the position where we have not got an open water safe environment.

"Our nearest other place is Stoney Cove, in Leicestershire. For a novice it's a bit daunting and there are a lot of techy divers walking around and they find it off putting and think 'I'm out of my depth here'."

He said that if Alton Water keeps the ban, he would launch a petition and high-profile campaign against the decision.

Keith Sleightholm, owner of Shark Scuba, in Colchester, said the club uses Alton Water for training at least twice a month.

"We hope that they get done whatever they need to do and get the diving started again," he said.

"We want to support Alton Water as much as we can and we are very keen to get it started again."

Because the management of Alton Water is in the hands of a public limited company and not a public body it can decide whether to allow diving to take place at the reservoir or not.

Phil Palmer, principal at Alton Water, said the company was reliant on divers telling them if there are safety concerns and it was only aware of a problem through the anonymous complaint to the HSE.

He said: "Until the meeting things will remain exactly as they are. The management committee has decided it would be suspended until further notice and until they sit down and consider the document they won't make a decision."

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