Free water rule to raise safety at rave clubs

DANCE clubs which charge sweltering ravers pounds 2 for a drink of water will be closed down under measures to be introduced by Manchester city council to prevent further deaths caused by drug use during dancing marathons.

At least five young people have died in Greater Manchester since 1989 from dance floor dehydration and heatstroke accentuated by drugs such as Ecstasy.

The council, alarmed by conditions in crowded clubs and exploitation of dancers, will next month begin enforcement of a 'safer dancing code of conduct' to which the city's 40 rave and dance clubs must conform, or risk losing their licences. Environmental health inspectors will become rave police, checking that clubs are adequately ventilated and make available to ravers information about the dangers of drug use.

Clubs will be expected to provide seating in quiet and comparatively cool 'chill out' rooms, but the priority of the code, the first to be introduced by a British local authority, will be to ensure dancers have plentiful water to drink, free of charge.

The council, advised by Manchester University and the drugs advisory service, Lifeline, has collated evidence of heating turned up and tap water supplies turned off in some cloakrooms to encourage dancers to buy soft drinks and mineral water from club bars at up to pounds 2 a bottle.

Ecstasy users often do not drink alcohol, so many clubs have set profit margins on soft drinks to compensate for the loss of revenue from alcoholic drinks.

Ecstasy masks the effects of dehydration and heatstroke; high bar prices suppress demand among ravers, many of whom are teenagers who spend much of their money on club admission and Ecstasy. 'The code of conduct was drawn up after we received confidential information about clubs where the cold water supply had been turned off,' a council spokesman said.

'Environmental health inspectors will be visiting clubs without prior warning. There are about 30 to 40 clubs in the city where rave music is played and Ecstasy is available. Thousands of people come into the city to go to the clubs - there are big queues for admission. Clubs will have to aim to provide a chill out room, and they will have to conform to minimum standards of air quality, ventilation and temperature.'

The council has opened a 24- hour telephone service to receive complaints about clubs failing to observe the code. 'There are small, dark clubs where a lot of people are dancing all the time, all night, and taking Ecstasy which makes them hotter,' Alan Haughton, of Lifeline, said.

'It's not unusual to see steam coming off the crowd and billowing out on to the street through air vents. People sweat so much the paint is continually peeling off the club walls. The music is hypnotic, the dancing communal.

'It is almost a sauna and, although most of them are quite sensible, it is not helped by some people wearing leather and rubber clothing. It got so bad at one club that they were thinking of providing a walk-through shower so that people could cool off.'