Building giant Cemex UK’s plan to sell off fishing areas sends ripples of concern through angling world
Usually the tree-lined banks of Sandhurst Lake, one of the best carp fishing spots in the UK, are a refuge from the problems of everyday life in troubled economic times. But not today.
The building materials group Cemex UK has announced that it is planning to sell its lakes and riverbanks, a decision that has sent ripples of concern throughout the world of angling.
Cemex says it wants to focus on its core business but anglers fear the move will lead to much-loved lakes being closed, turned into water sports venues or even filled in or concreted over.
“It’s a pity,” says Jamie Smith, a 38-year-old film-maker who has fished Sandhurst Lake, part of the Yateley complex on the border of Hampshire and Berkshire, since he was 16. “I remember when this was a jetski lake. It’s now one of the best lakes in the country where you can buy a day ticket and fish. The worry is that somebody will take over the lakes that doesn’t care about fishing or can see some other use for them.”
Smith talks lovingly of the great fish that live in the lake, such as Seascale, an 18kg (40lb) specimen that is hauled out around twice a year, and Nigel’s Fish – named, prosaically, after an angler called Nigel who first caught it.
Lakes such as Sandhurst were created when gravel was extracted for the construction industry. Rather than being left as gaping holes or filled in, they were topped up with water – and fish. Over the years the stocks of carp and other species have been managed and Cemex has worked with conservation organisations including the RSPB to improve the lakes for other flora and fauna. Cemex Angling has 56 venues – lakes, complexes and stretches of river – and bills itself, for now, as the UK’s “largest commercial angling organisation”.
Cemex’s fisheries manager, Pete Newman, stops to see how Smith is getting on.
He hasn’t caught anything yet but has two lines baited with tutti-frutti “boilees” dangling in a deep (2.5 metre (8ft) deep silty trench halfway between the bank and an island and remains hopeful.
Newman is one of four employees and a team of volunteer bailiffs whose future is uncertain. “It’s a business decision,” he says. “I understand the company has been through some hard times like many others and I understand they want to shrink to their core business and protect it.
“But it is a big blow, of course. It’s the livelihoods of four people. We’ve put blood, sweat and tears into the business and it’s very unclear what will happen to us.” He points out that other businesses – such as the tackle shops and cafes that serve the anglers – could be hit.
Cemex, founded in Mexico in 1906, has a presence in more than 50 countries across the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, producing aggregates, cement and concrete. Its UK operation is its fourth biggest, with annual sales of £750m and 3,300 staff.
But the UK business has been hit by the economic downturn. New orders in construction hit their lowest levels since 1980 last summer, according to the Office for National Statistics. In the last quarter of 2011, activity in the industry fell by 0.5%, prompting fears that the country was moving towards a second recession in three years.
Globally, Cemex has launched what it calls a “rigorous transformation designed to make us more efficient, more agile, and more customer focused”.
This appears to be bad news for anglers in the UK. Simon Barrett, property director at Cemex UK, said the creation of fishing lakes had been an excellent way for the company and its predecessors to build links with communities and do good for the environment. But latterly the money that could be better used elsewhere was being spent maintaining the lakes.
“It has been a very difficult decision but angling is not a core part of the business,” he said.
It was not yet known if the lakes would be sold off as one package, in bundles or individually, Barrett added. “There is a lot of affection for the lakes so this has come as a shock.”
Chris Ball, of the magazine Carp-Talk, said it was worrying news. “You can’t see a single purchaser buying the business as one, it is more likely they will be sold in separate lots,” he said.
“The major fear is that these lakes will be sold to property developers, filled in and built over. Equally they could be used for waterskiing, jetskiing and windsurfing or they could be used for landfill refuse.
“Cemex Angling controls so many good waters in the country. One or two of them that are at risk of closing are real jewels in the crown of angling.
“Yateley is the modern heritage of carp fishing. It has produced some of the most famous and finest carp in the world.”
At Sandhurst Smith settles down in his bivouac for a night of fishing – the carp tend to be more active at night – unsure of how much longer he will have to try to catch Seascale or Nigel’s Fish.
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