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Residents pour cold water on YMCA Newark and Sherwood's boating proposals for Balderton Lake at parish annual meeting

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Plans for boating on Balderton Lake encountered choppy waters at the parish's annual meeting, which was attended by over 100 people — the most in living memory.

Those who attended appeared universally against the proposals by the YMCA to offer canoeing and kayaking on part of the lake to children.

A sometimes heated meeting was abandoned by Balderton Parish Council chairman Ronnie White after fellow councillor Lydia Hurst was heckled when she rose in an attempt to read correspondence from parishioners who were pro the proposals.

A packed annual meeting at Balderton Community Hall. (56487127)
A packed annual meeting at Balderton Community Hall. (56487127)

Ronnie White had herself been shouted down when she attempted to read a letter from someone in favour without divulging the name and address of the letter-writer, having made it a condition of the meeting that all speakers had to give their name and address as a means of ensuring they were from Balderton.

A succession of speakers, some members of the campaign group SWAN, condemned the proposals, calling into question the assertion that the lake would be safe to use for water sports despite signs that warn against swimming.

Protesters harangue the YMCA's Todd Cauthorn and a colleague after the meeting was ended. (56487133)
Protesters harangue the YMCA's Todd Cauthorn and a colleague after the meeting was ended. (56487133)

There have been two deaths in the lake, one a suicide and another a teenage boy who got into difficulty while cooling off on a hot summer's day with friends.

A number of speakers also called into question the results of a sonar search said to have been carried out by the YMCA and the quality and depth of its ecology surveys.

One man said: "We've been told for 25 years that Balderton Lake is dangerous to swim in and nothing has been done physically to change that."

Balderton Lake. (54301435)
Balderton Lake. (54301435)

Leigh Marshall said: "My best friend's mum got a knock at the door with the life-changing news her son had drowned in the lake. It has taken life. It has the potential to happen again."

He said the lake was one of the last treasures of Balderton and that, as guardians of it, the parish council should leave it as it is, undo the deal it has with the YMCA and start to represent the people who elected them.

Karen Callingham called into question the quality of the surveys done and said the proposals would damage wildlife and the lake, which should be protected. She also said people in mental health crises benefited from the sanctuary the lake provided.

Campaigners at a recent Balderton Lake protest. Front: Karen Callingham and Joy Sellars.
Campaigners at a recent Balderton Lake protest. Front: Karen Callingham and Joy Sellars.

It was also said that the lake had been a dumping ground for commercial waste in the past, such as plasterboard and drums of rubbish that were now coroding at the bottom in the layers of silt. It was also claimed that equipment from quarrying lay at the bottom and steel rods had been seen protruding from the lake bed.

It was said that those who had lived in Balderton for a long time would remember the stench of sulphur that came from the lake, which was only now becoming a beauty spot after years of being a barren space resulting from its days as quarry and landfill site.

Joy Sellars, of Rowan Way, has suggested working with the parish council to set up a Friends of Balderton Lake group to draw up a management plan and with ideas of planting native species of flora and fauna, a history board and QR codes to scan to provide information on the lake.

Leigh Marshall, of Balderton, at the lake where his best friend as teenagers died.
Leigh Marshall, of Balderton, at the lake where his best friend as teenagers died.

She also said blue green algae was prevalent at the lake and could be there without being visible to the naked eye, posing a risk to the health of boaters because it was known to be toxic to humans and dogs. She said she had spoken to British Canoeing who had said waterways with blue green algae were not suitable for such activities.

She brandished a copy of an old newsletter in which the parish council of years gone by had themselves said the lake was unsafe for swimming.

The affect of the algae, or the quality of the lake water, was raised by a woman who said that she and her horse had fallen in, leaving them both ill for some time afterwards.

Christine Hopkins said she had been in touch with Nicola Jenkins whose 12-year-old son Owen drowned in Nottingham while attempting to save friends who had gotten into difficulty, and Nicola had offered her advice about how to improve safety.

This included replacing the life rings, which she said were often unavailable because they have been thrown into the lake, with Owen's Boxes that are locked boxes with a telephone number to call to get a code to open the box, which contains a life ring on a throw line.

She also asked why Balderton Lake when Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust didn't permit boating at any of its reserves?

Someone asked what was to stop local children taking their own boats down there unsupervised once they had seen the YMCA in action and believed it was safe to do so.

Trevor Smith said there were two underground fresh water springs that fed into the lake, meaning that the temperature was always very cold. There were also suggestions of undercurrents.

"The parish council bought Balderton Lake for the people of Balderton," he said.

Could the YMCA not partner with Newark Sea Cadets instead, someone asked.

"We are the voice for the wildlife," said another.

While Andy Walker said residents should get a reduction in council tax if the plans went ahead.

The YMCA were represented at the meeting. Todd Cauthorn, executive director, for the YMCA Newark and Sherwood, sought to placate the crowd by saying that the sonar survey had revealed nothing on the lake bed, and that the report provided had been done by an ecologist, with a second more up-to-date one being prepared, and a breeding birds survey to follow.

"The ecologist has written all the reports which contradict what you have heard and what you are being told," he said.

He said that nothing that was being proposed for the lake would harm it or the wildlife there, and that the YMCA, as a world-wide organisation, was well versed in providing safe and rewarding activities for young people.

He said that among the courses the YMCA ran was one that taught young people about how to be respectful of nature.

"We would never allow anyone to do an activity that's not safe," he said.

Lydia Hurst had already questioned where the environmental protestors were when the Flowserve football ground was lost to a private developer who will build 322 homes without supporting infrastructure, and why they weren't doing more to fight plans for building more then 100 houses near Highfields School, which involves the felling of many trees.

But it was when she rose to introduce letters in support of the YMCA's proposals that she was heckled, and Ronnie White, having warned that she would out the outset if it descended into a "shambles", declared the meeting at an end after an hour and 40 minutes with "shame" and "have a rethink" echoing in her ears.

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