Great sewage clean-up means record number of beaches pass pollution test

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The Independent Online

A decline in sewage pollution means that more clean beaches are available for holidaymakers in Britain this year, the Marine Conservation Society reports today.

The society's "Good Beach Guide 2000" recommends a record number of 215 beaches, 35 more than last year, and for the first time recommends beaches in the North-west - two in Cumbria.

The number of British beaches failing minimum European Union water standards also dropped steeply last year, to 80 - 11 per cent of the total tested - from 115 in 1998.

The society says a continuing fall in pollution along much of the coastline is responsible for the change, with highly contaminated areas such as the North of England and Scotland recording improvements.

An £8bn sewage discharge clean-up programme was announced by the Government in March last year. Funded by the water companies and continuing until 2005, it aims to end the depositing of sewage on beaches and riverbanks that is a legacy of the Victorian sewerage system.

The society endorses beaches only if they are not affected by inadequately treated sewage and meet stringent EU water quality standards. The guide is intended to allow people to make informed choices about where to swim. A total of 749 UK beacheswere monitored for bathing water quality in 1999 by public authorities, such as the Environment Agency in England and Wales. The 215 meeting the society's criteria represent 29 per cent of the total.

Kate Hutchinson, its coastal pollution officer, said: "The results this year show that the extensive clean-up programmes are paying off." But no beaches at all should fail the tests, she said, and many of the planned treatment developments could not come soon enough.

"Although the results are encouraging, we cannot afford to ease the pace of improvement now. Raw and inadequately treated sewage is still being discharged into coastal waters. It is unacceptable in the new millennium for the public to be exposed to pathogens from sewage contamination."

The regional reports are:

South-west: More than one-third of beaches are recommended. However, there was no reduction in the number of beaches failing, and little gain in the number recommended - only one more than in 1999. Developments in the next five years, it is hoped, will lower this inadmissible failure rate.

South-east: A sharp contrast to last year, with four more beaches failing the lowest standards and seven fewer recommended.

North-east: Water quality is improving, with 14 per cent of beaches recommended, compared with 9 per cent last year. However, 8 per cent of beaches still fail the minimum standard. Water quality could be even better this summer as improvements will be in place before the season begins.

North-west: For the first time, the guide recommends two beaches - Skinburness and Allonby in Cumbria. Work has been completed on many sewage discharges; 11 beaches failed the minimum standard compared with 13 last year.

Scotland: 18 per cent of beaches recommended; 22 per cent failed, compared with 40 per cent last year. More improvements are needed, especially on the west coast.

Wales: Substantial improvement in water quality, with a rise from 18 per cent to 31 per cent in the number of Welsh beaches recommended. The number failing has been halved from 1999 levels.

Channel Islands: The number recommended has fallen to 14 from 20 last year.

Northern Ireland: Better results, with 36 per cent of beaches recommended, up from 23 per cent, and none failing the lowest standards.

Isle of Man: 25 per cent ofbeaches still fail the minimum standard due to raw sewage discharges, and no beaches are recommended. New sewage treatment will be in place in the next three years.