Action man who licenses risk

9th August 1996 at 01:00
The new licensing authority for outdoor activity centres must ensure safety without smothering the industry in paperwork, says Marcus Bailie, the man who has just taken charge of its inspection services.

When Mr Bailie heard that the Government was to create a licensing authority he feared that the spirit that makes outdoor activity centres challenging for young people might be in jeopardy.

Mr Bailie, once the instructor responsible for British mountaineering at the Plas y Brenin national centre, said: "We don't want to curtail the service being offered. There is an element of risk. Cuts and scrapes are normal wear and tear. Death and disabling injury are not acceptable. Somewhere in the middle is a line.

"This is a safe industry. What we have to concentrate on is the parts that are reputable and those which are not.

"When it comes to things as hazardous as adventure activities, knowing things are pretty good is not enough for parents and schools." He didn't want "a bunch of health and safety suits from London to march into an outdoor centre and say you can't do this and that".

Mr Bailie, 41, was previously director of the National Adventure Centre for Ireland. He has a wide experience of canoeing, mountaineering and skiing. He plans to complete a major canoeing expedition every two years - his last mission was to the Blue Nile.

But for now he is anchored to his desk at the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority which is to be run by the Cardiff-based Tourism Quality Services. He will head a team of eight senior inspectors who will handle applications from the UK's estimated 3,000 to 5,000 outdoor activity centres. The team has until the end of September 1997 to inspect all the centres which have applied for a licence.

The eight inspectors bring with them a wealth of outdoor adventure experience. They include John Cliffe, training co-ordinator for the National Caving Association, canoeist Jan Bradford, director of an Exeter outdoor centre, and Dinah Thomas, past president of the Trekking and Riding Society of Wales.

The industry is being more tightly regulated under the Activity Centres Act following the Lyme Bay canoe disaster three years ago in which four teenagers died.

The Act covers 26 activities in the categories of water sports, caving and trekking. But Mr Bailie says there are anomalies - off-piste skiing needs to be licensed, but on piste does not.

"We have had centres applying who do not offer the activities that require a licence and we have had to turn them down," said Mr Bailie.

He added schools still had a responsibility and the licensing authority didn't absolve them of that. But he is aware it will be the authority that will face criticism if there is an accident at a licensed centre.

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