Will you need a licence?

6th September 1996 at 01:00
The Lyme Bay canoeing tragedy has meant wide-ranging changes to the law on activity centres.

Under the Activity Centres (Young Person's Safety) Act 1995, centres which are run commercially or by local education authorities will need a licence if they offer any of the following "adventure activities" to under-18s: * Caving: Underground exploration including pot-holing, caving (except in "show caves" or those which present no technical difficulties), mine exploration.

* Climbing: Rock-climbing and abseiling (but not on purpose-built walls and towers), ice-climbing, gorge-walking, ghyll-scrambling, sea-level traversing.

* Trekking: Walking, running, orienteering, pony-trekking, mountain-biking, off-piste skiing and snowboarding, skating and sledging, when in remote moor and mountain country more than 30 minutes' travelling time from the nearest road or refuge.

* Watersports: Canoeing, kayaking, dragon-boating, wave-skiing, white-water rafting, improvised rafting, sailing and sailboarding, on the sea, tidal waters and non-placid lakes larger than 100 metres.

The Government-appointed Adventure Activities Licensing Authority, run by the Cardiff company Tourism Quality Services, believes that up to 2,000 establishments may need licensing. However, there is no central register of outdoor-activity centres and estimates vary as to the real number.

"In effect, we are going to be the first national register of such centres, " says John Walsh Heron, of Tourism Quality Services. "We will also be an information service for the public and schools and anybody else who is a potential customer of these services. They can ask us if a centre is licensed. "

After advertising in The TES, the company received nearly 600 applications from would-be inspectors. A team of 10 full-time inspectors has been taken on and more part-time appointments are expected. Inspections, which must be carried out by October 1, 1997, will take several days in some cases. Centres must pay a one-off fee of Pounds 200 plus Pounds 30 per hour of inspection up to a maximum of Pounds 1,400. The scheme is designed to become self-financing but initially will be subsidised by the Department for Education and Employment.

Centres thought to pose most risk or where staff have fewer qualifications will be among the first to be inspected. Licences will be issued for a maximum of three years depending on the qualifications and competence of staff and the activities involved. Anyone refused a licence has the right of appeal to the DFEE.

Teacher-led trips and those organised by voluntary groups which do not charge a fee do not need to be licensed and the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act continues to apply.

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