A leading campaigner says she was “blown away” by the number of people who turned up for a protest at a reservoir on Sunday.

More than 200 people took part in a march at Aldenham Reservoir in protest against the reservoir owners, Liberty Lake Leisure Ltd.

Residents are up in arms about what has happened at the reservoir over the last few months.

Owners Liberty have reduced the water level at the once “stunningly beautiful” reservoir by a metre which left the sailing club with no option but to leave, while silt and algae has built up in and around the water.

And the construction of a fence restricting public access around one side of the reservoir was the final straw for some and it triggered a protest by campaign group, Save Aldenham Reservoir.

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A new locked gate restricting walks around the reservoir

The march, which has been described by campaigner Clare Newton as “friendly”, began by The Fisheries in Elstree Road, before moving to the dam wall at the reservoir which arguably is the reason for all of this discontent.

Ms Newton said: “There was a lovely atmosphere. Really friendly and not aggressive. I was blown away by how many turned up.

“By highlighting the situation at the reservoir, we’re highlighting to Hertsmere Borough Council how much this means to local people. I hope it shows Hertsmere and Liberty that we really do want the reservoir.

“On reflection, I’m thinking why didn’t we protest earlier?”

There is cross-party support for the reservoir, with representatives from the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats attending the protest.

Labour group leader, Cllr Jeremy Newmark, gave a speech by the dam wall.

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'Save the lake' - protester at Aldenham Reservoir

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Cllr Jeremy Newmark. Credit: Teresa Lloyd

What has caused this protest to happen?

As Ms Newton, and Elstree resident Dan Ozarow have both said, this protest was on the cards.

Earlier this year, Liberty decided to open a sluice at the reservoir.

Although Liberty acknowledge the dam is currently in a “satisfactory” condition, they say their dam inspector suggested they consider a “temporary or permanent reduction in water level to reduce the load on the existing structure”.

The inspector added in his 2019 report that movement patterns “will continue and could accelerate within time”.

Liberty have described this advice as a “perceived risk” and have immediately taken on board the inspector’s comments to reduce the water level.

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The land by the dam wall is unrecognisable. Earlier this year, it was filled with water

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These images are as a result of a metre of water being drained

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The consequences of this action has led to Aldenham Sailing Club terminating its lease after 80 years and the reservoir looks a shadow of what it looked like before the sluice was opened.

A new fence has also riled residents and those who use the reservoir.

Liberty has built a fence around the side of the reservoir, which has restricted views, while a gate blocks access from The Fisheries around the western side - although the access that has been blocked is not a public right of way at the moment.

The owners have listed a number of reasons why the fence has been constructed, mainly for health and safety purposes – a full list of these reasons can be found here.

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A protester at Aldenham Reservoir

Liberty also claim protesters are aiming their anger in the wrong place.

Co-owner, Nitin Gosrani, said: “We understand the anger and frustration of local residents’ groups like the Elstree & Borehamwood Residents Association (EBRA), but with respect, we feel it is misplaced.

“The councils are elected by their local communities and should be there to serve them and their interests.

“If these groups would like the circular path around the reservoir to be open to the public, they should be lobbying their local councillors.”

EBRA says it is taking no sides and is a non-political organisation and is focused on the future of the reservoir under the ownership of Liberty.

However, EBRA is "shocked and horrified" at the current situation of Liberty's ownership and management of the reservoir and the actions it has taken.

EBRA has urged Liberty to engage in discussions with the council.

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Liberty, who bought the reservoir in 2015, have constantly asked the question as to why neither Hertfordshire County Council or Hertsmere Borough Council are interested in leasing the site from them.

The county council has said it ended its lease of the reservoir in 2015 due to “cost and liability involved with the management and maintenance of the dam”.

Meanwhile, Councillor Harvey Cohen has reiterated that Hertsmere Borough Council has no interest in leasing the reservoir from Liberty, because the council does not believe it should risk taxpayers’ money on a private venture.

But the council are pleading for Liberty to meet with them for discussions on potentially appropriate proposals at the reservoir, which may be able to generate income for Liberty to allow them to maintain the reservoir.

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Clare Newton laid flowers at the reservoir on Sunday as if they were mourning the loss of it

So far, Liberty have been knocked back in plans to build 150 homes on green belt land in Elstree Road and halted an application to build 50 holiday pods on the bank of the reservoir after the council made clear it would not support the scheme.

But so far, the council says Liberty have declined an offer to sit around the table despite being offered a reduction cost in pre-application planning advice of 50 per cent.

Cllr Cohen said: “We still want to meet with Liberty. But we don’t want to talk to them about leasing the reservoir. Liberty need to come up with an acceptable scheme.

“I think the protest was very good. It was good for the owners to see how strongly the public feel that they want the reservoir to be kept open.

“I question strongly the need for water levels to be reduced and I think it was a really poor move by the landowners. I support strongly the move of the protesters and council will do all it can.”

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Cllr Harvey Cohen, in charge of planning at Hertsmere Borough Council

Hertsmere’s MP Oliver Dowden has also urged Liberty to work with local authorities and stakeholders and said he will “continue to press the importance of preserving this local jewel”.

"As I have said many times before, it is vitally important that we do not damage the reservoir’s wonderful open spaces and continue to retain public access.

"I continue to liaise with relevant local groups, constituents and agencies involved. I know that Hertfordshire County Council did everything they could to work with Liberty to reach an agreement about recording this footpath as a public right of way, ensuring public access is retained.

"I am extremely disappointed that Liberty have now both lowered the reservoir by one metre and erected a fence along the perimeter.

"I have written to the Secretary of State to register my support for the footpath to be recorded as a public right of way and will continue to raise constituents concerns to all involved to secure the future of Aldenham Reservoir."

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Oliver Dowden, left, pictured previously at Aldenham Reservoir

Liberty has said the reservoir is not for sale and on its website, The Future of Aldenham Reservoir, refute the idea that it wants to build on the reservoir itself.

A statement on the website says: “We categorically do not want to fill the reservoir and build any monstrous development on top of where the reservoir is, as we have heard some members of the community claim in various groups.”

Ms Gosrani added: “As a local family, we have been visiting the reservoir for walks and picnics for the past 30 years at least. We love the reservoir and appreciate how important it has been recreationally for the local community.

“In order to maintain public access to Aldenham Reservoir and meet the rising costs of maintenance, safety and security, we need a way to generate income as we no longer have the resources needed.

“We have tried to work with Hertsmere Borough Council since 2015 to find solutions, including inviting the council to renew their lease to preserve public access.

"We welcome any discussions the council would like to have to come to an agreeable solution, including the council leasing the reservoir from us, but we will not be submitting further planning applications as it stands."

To find out more about Liberty’s planning applications, why it does not want to sell the reservoir, and for more history on the reservoir, click here.