A sailing club has been inactive for weeks and weeks after water continued to gush out of a reservoir.

Aldenham Sailing Club began facing challenges in January after the owners of Aldenham Reservoir took action to reduce the level of the water, based on a letter from their dam inspector, who visited the site last summer.

Fast-forward to March and sailing on the lake is non-existent - and this was before the coronavirus lockdown.

And now a new threat has arisen at the reservoir after owners Liberty Lake Leisure Ltd (LLL) signalled plans to install a two metre fence around the entirety of the reservoir, prompting concerns public access will be lost.

The story so far

Plenty has happened at Aldenham Reservoir in the last few months.

It began last summer when LLLL submitted plans to build 50 accommodation pods around the eastern bank of the lake. The owners said this would help provide income and be vital to “securing the future management” of the wider reservoir.

But the plans were scrapped in January after it became clear Hertsmere Borough Council would not support the scheme, mainly because it was on green belt land.

Watford Observer:

The eastern bank where accommodation pods were proposed for. You can see the sailing clubhouse in the distance

This was good news for the sailing club, who pay LLLL £7,800 for use of the lake for its 100 plus members, because land to store the boats and launch them into the water would have been lost if the pods went ahead.

Watford Observer:

But, the club’s joy was short-lived as LLLL pressed ahead with separate plans to drop the water level of the reservoir by one metre. This was based on advice sent by their dam inspector in a confidential letter, which stated he had “concerns over the movement of the dam wall” which is 225-years-old.

Watford Observer:

This notice was put up late last year by the owners 

He suggested that LLLL may want to consider a “temporary or permanent reduction in water level to reduce the load on the reservoir”.

The drop in water was described as “disastrous” by sailing club commoder Bryan Forbes, who also pointed to the inspector’s report, which was released following a Freedom of Information request, and revealed the inspector said no immediate action on the dam was required.

Watford Observer:

Bryan Forbes, left, pictured last year on one of the jetties at the reservoir

What has happened since then?

The water level has been reduced at the reservoir and the sluices have remained open.

As a result, sailing on the lake quickly ceased.

Mr Forbes explained: “It would take the like some time to refill to a suitable level to make it safe. Our less-abled sailors cannot sail at all because they need special winches to boats in and out of the water and that is not possible at present.

“If you could get boats out on the water you could sail it – the problem is getting the boat in and out. What we call launching and recovery is too dangerous.”

“There seems to be no prospect of sailing for the schools and the young children that we train.

“And Liberty won’t talk to us, it feels like they want us to wither away.”

Watford Observer:

This yellow marker shows where the water level was at before the sluice was opened

Watford Observer:

Watford Observer:

These are some of the latest images of the reservoir, including of the dam wall

The sailing club have been waiting anxiously for the results of a survey which was meant to be carried out on the dam wall by LLLL’s inspector.

The inspector did visit on February 16 but heavy rain meant a meaningful assessment couldn’t be made. He will revisit, subject to the coronavirus pandemic.

Liberty made contact with the sailing club on March 18, when one of the co-owners Mahesh Gosrani wrote to them and made it clear the water level will remain as it is now.

He said: “In case you have any doubts, I can categorially confirm that bearing in mind our risks and liabilities associated with the dam, that holds the water in the reservoir, and costs of repair and generally but particularly with the dam, with our very limited resources and no new sources of income, the current level of water will stay as it is.”

Watford Observer:

A jetty pictured last year before the drop in water level

Watford Observer:

The jetty pictured nearly two weeks ago after the water level was dropped by one metre

Mr Gosrani added in a comment to this newspaper that the sailing club can take a full, repairs, and insurance lease on the reservoir to help “safeguard their continued sailing on the reservoir” and increase the water level.

But Mr Forbes said the club is not willing to take on a lease like that but said they are available “any time, any place” and “willing to enter into discussion with Liberty about a practical future for the lake”.

Watford Observer:

A new threat at the reservoir?

It is not just the sailing club which is concerned about Liberty’s activity at Aldenham Reservoir.

Various stakeholders at Aldenham Country Park met on Friday 15 to discuss the ongoing situation at the reservoir, as well as LLLL’s proposal for a fence around the reservoir.

Mr Gosrani has told this paper the proposed fence is for health and safety reasons.

The fence, which would be two metres high and eventually go around the whole of the reservoir, is considered to be necessary because “walkers often go off the public footpath close to the edge of the water, and if someone slips and gets hurt or drowns then it’s a huge liability” and so to “keep the insurance premium at an affordable level LLLL need to mitigate the risks”.

A bird's eye view of Aldenham Reservoir. Credit: Google Street View

Mr Gosrani has confirmed the fence will restrict both views and walks on the footpath, and added if this plan goes ahead, certain parts of the footpath will be closed off, preventing people walking around the whole of the lake.

LLLL also say this action is required after blaming Hertsmere Borough Council for a “lack of clarity” after the council slapped a tree preservation order (TPO) around the reservoir after learning 80 trees could be felled due to the pods scheme.

Mr Gosrani says the council has “given no information” regarding the TPO and what it means for the future of the trees around the reservoir.

He added: "We feel really sad having to take such actions and we are very grateful to the stakeholders and people who have been very supportive and sympathetic throughout our struggles."

The council has been approached for comment.

‘Public access needs to be retained’

During the meeting between stakeholders on March 15, which included local councillors, Aldenham Renassaince, the sailing club, Aldenham Angling Club, and Aldenham Country Park Trust, they concluded a fence would “spoil the view which has been available for 200 years”, including the fence on top of the dam will, which has been described as a “travesty”.

They added there was “still uncertainty” over the sluice and added it is “vital” that the green infrastructure is preserved.

Hertsmere’s MP Oliver Dowden has also been following the situation at the reservoir closely.

Watford Observer:

Oliver Dowden, left, pictured at the reservoir in 2019

He said: “Recently, I convened a meeting with the leader of Hertfordshire County Council, Cllr David Williams, to raise specific concerns about the footpath around the reservoir and Liberty’s intentions to build a fence here.

“I have been assured by the council it is doing everything it can to work with Liberty to reach an agreement about recording this footpath as a public right of way, ensuring public access is retained.

“I will continue to raise constituents concerns to all involved and press the importance of preserving this local jewel.”

Mr Dowden added that was “disheartened” to hear about sailing ceasing on the lake.