Troubled waters ruining our campus

Our campus doesn’t really have a lot going for it. Purely on an aesthetic level, it’s pretty damn ugly. From the strange 60’s spaceship that is Central Hall to the damp and decaying bridges, where merely making it to the other side is something of a triumph, York sadly won’t be winning any beauty contests any time soon. But campus does have one feature which stops it being altogether hideous: the lake.

It’s not that the whole of campus is grotty and run down, far from it. There’s the Quiet Place (or “the secret garden” as I heard it called the other day), and some of the newer buildings aren’t hideous to look at, if you like odd attempts at New Age-y bridges. But the lake is the one pervasive feature of campus that prevents the grey slabs of concrete ugliness from completely surrounding us. Yes, it’s annoying to have to endlessly navigate around treacherous bridges which seem to take you in the opposite direction to your actual destination, but there are occasions when it actually looks rather picturesque. The University seem slightly obsessed with it; they fill prospectuses with pictures of shimmering water and even adorn our university cards with wildfowl, just in case we miss the hundreds of ducks, geese and swans that parade around campus.

It’s clear that they know it to be the one redeeming feature of an otherwise drab campus. So, it seems odd that after portraying it to be a beautiful and unique feature, they are happy to let it remain toxic and rather disgusting.

The lake reportedly contains all sorts of diseases, not to mention lots of broken glass, assorted building debris and maybe even an old Mini. It may be a source of amusing rumours, but there is a more serious problem lurking under the surface, both metaphorically and literally. When I visited York on an open day, I was regaled with stories of how at least one person falls in the lake during Freshers’ Week every year. This may have just been made up by some over-zealous tour guide, but it is not unreasonable to assume that accidents could – and probably will happen. The potential is there for a hapless student to become seriously ill as a result of the University’s failure to act. A clean-up would improve the aesthetics, the environment and the safety of campus, and would probably save them money somewhere along the line. And perhaps if the lake was cleaner the geese would be less angry. I’m all for that.

No other UK university has a lake so central to their campus. It should be something to be proud of. But until the University cleans up its act, it won’t be.


  1. Apart from saying campus being ugly, I completely agree with you Liv – I’m fairly sure the point of fines isn’t to have them as a substitute for action, but instead a punitive measure aimed to force the Uni into action.

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  2. 19 May ’09 at 2:25 am

    Samuel James Partridge

    If only we could all jump ship to Hes East, and have another crack at the design of our current Campus. Especially the damn spaceship, which I heard from most likely unreliable sources was sinking? Seems a fine waste of space, however, while other Universities get a shiny and rather fun Union building.

    However, I did hear that the lake has a unique ecosystem which the Biology students and local enviroment would hate for us to destroy, and the cost of cleaning it would be monstrous. Aesthetically speaking, however, as summer rolls in, York Uni Lake is only going to get darker and more odorous, and sometimes I could only wish for all of Campus to look as dashing as our new buildings.

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  3. 19 May ’09 at 2:31 am

    Samuel James Partridge

    Pahh, two “howevers” far too close… Good english and 2.30am are not excellent bed-fellows.

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  4. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if they just filled it in and put grass down? That would be much nicer.

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  5. Can I enquire as to the source(s) you have used for information about the Environmental Agency’s fine. I mean, it’s a great anecdote to tell Fresher’s, but is that all it is? It would be nice to find out at last the truth behind one of the ‘legends of the lake’.

    As for a mini, who knows?

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  6. @ Susan Pretty – yes, but the university would sink. It’s built on marshland and keeping the water all in one place is the only way that the rest of the ground can be kept stable enough.

    The urban legend is that it’s cheaper for the university to pay the fine to the environment agency each year than to dredge the lake, I’ve no idea how much truth there is in it though. According the the Control of Pollution Act, the fine cannot be more than £20,000.

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  7. The Environmental Agency told us about the most recent spillage of oil into the lake, which was in August 2008, and I was told that there was a fine ensuing from that.

    And as regards the Mini, it could just be rumours, but I did once walk over the bridge by Central Hall and see half of such a vehicle on the walkway, looking suspiciously rank … but I wouldn’t want to make any assumptions.

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