THE chief executive of a major leisure facility says he has been forced to close his business after a longstanding planning dispute with the local council. 

Martyn Edwards opened Caversham Lakes Watersports on Henley Road, Caversham, in July 2020, and the site has welcomed '100,000 visitors' each year, providing a range of sports activities as well as training courses to the public.

But on Tuesday the site announced it would cease trading after losing a planning argument with South Oxfordshire District Council –  and with Mr Edwards left “hundreds of thousands of pounds” out of pocket. 

In an interview with the Chronicle, Mr Edwards said the authority has been “relentless in its quest” to never allow Caversham Lakes to operate. 

He claims they were forced into a position to apply for permission when a longstanding agreement had already been in place. 

He said: “The lake has always had recreational use for the general public access and a retrospective application should have not been needed and it was forced on us because they didn’t want such a great leisure venue to exist.”

Describing his emotions, the 48-year-old entrepreneur, who is from Berkshire, said: “I am devastated. This project has been providing leisure facilities to the local and wider community – there is nowhere else like this near here. It is a huge travesty for everyone involved, from the families who use it regularly to the 150 people we employ every summer.”

The former elite athlete said: “I am hugely out of pocket to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds. I knew when I went into this project that I would be pouring a lot of money into it and I knew I might lose money, but I never thought I would be treated in the way that I have been by the local councils.”

The father of two said he had a vision to open up wild swimming to the public and took on the site three years ago in the hope of providing a facility for the public to use. 

He said the site has had a “hugely important” impact on the local community. He said: “I’ve seen how being outdoors can improve mental health and well-being. Our site have been used by such a broad section of society.

“I’ve had people in tears hugging me because we’ve changed people’s lives, particularly the families of disabled children. The number of people that would come here every day throughout the summer was huge.” 

A spokesman for South Oxfordshire District Council said: “We refused the previous planning application on the grounds of insufficient information on certain aspects. The planning inspectorate dismissed the appeal from the applicant and upheld the enforcement notice."

Reading Borough Council, as a neighbouring authority, has been contacted for comment.

Mr Edwards said he believes the lack of support from South Oxfordshire District Council, who has jurisdiction over the site due to its location, and Reading Borough, proves that neither are making public health a priority.

In a stark message to the councils he said: “You need to open up your eyes to what you’ve signed up for. You’ve been directed by central government to provide the community with access to leisure facilities and water spaces. There is an obesity crisis, a mental health and well-being problem, places like this are a solution. We should be opening more of these businesses, not shutting them down.” 

Mr Edwards said he now fears what might happen as a result of the lake’s closure. The site has been subjected to vandalism in recent months but will now be boarded up and manned by security to stop trespassing. 

Addressing the public he said: “Please do not come to the lake – it is a health hazard. We don’t want anyone else to become a statistic.” 

Future plans for the site remain unclear. 

A statement on the website, published on Tuesday, reads: “While we hoped for a different outcome, it seems unlikely given the current state of affairs. However, we remain hopeful for change, especially in this election year. Perhaps with new leadership, there will be a chance to revisit our situation and allow Caversham Lakes to reopen on a smaller scale, in harmony with nature.

“To all those who have cherished our lake, we bid you farewell for now. We are grateful for your support and hope to see you again in the future. Until then, we wish you all the best in finding alternative summer destinations.”

For now, Mr Edwards says he is going to take a step back to spend more time with family.