John Gummer turns Hull into a seaside resort

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The Independent Online
HULL has been transformed into a seaside resort at a stroke of John Gummer's pen - to the surprise and anger of its citizens.

The Environment Secretary has performed this bizarre geographical shuffle to enable privatised Yorkshire Water to escape an obligation to build a pounds 200m new sewage works to clean up the city's pollution.

By arbitrarily moving Britain's coastline and declaring more than 30 miles of the River Humber to be open sea, Mr Gummer made it possible for the company to side-step the provisions of a new European directive designed to clean up Europe's worst water pollution blackspots.

Crude sewage from the city currently spills into the Humber and the council has long complained that it fouls the banks of the estuary and the beaches of Cleethorpes. Under the EU directive, which Britain accepted three years ago and which comes into force in 1998, this will be illegal and a new works would be needed to remove 90 per cent of the pollution.

But Britain has long sought to minimise the impact of the directive, and Mr Gummer has managed to exempt Hull from it by exploiting a loophole which allows less stringent clean-up standards for ``high natural dispersion areas'', where the sea would quickly carry away waste.

Last year the National Rivers Authority (NRA), Britain's official water pollution watchdog, drew up a list of these areas, based on scientific criteria. The Humber was later added to it, the NRA says, at Mr Gummer's ``suggestion''.

This alone would not have been enough to kill the sewage works, as the directive strictly limits the exemptions that can be made in estuaries. So Mr Gummer then caused the official limit of the open sea to be moved more than 30 miles westward, from Spurn Head at the mouth of the estuary to the Humber Bridge, which is conveniently just upstream of Hull. Now only 20 per cent of the pollution will have to be removed.

Ministers say this was only done after ``public consultation'', but the City Council says it knew nothing of this and only learned of the changes recently by accident, when making routine inquiries about when work on the new sewage works would begin.

Yorkshire Water wrote to Hull's Town Clerk and Chief Executive, Darryl Stephenson, on 15 September saying: ``The coastline has been defined, for the purposes of the Directive, as including that part of the Humber downstream of the Humber Bridge. Hull sewage, therefore, discharges to the coastal waters rather than an estuary.'' It said that as a result, the planned sewage works would be scrapped. Mr Stephenson has angrily written to Mr Gummer condemning the move as ``totally unacceptable'' and noting drily: ``Hull has never considered itself a seaside


Mr Stephenson said yesterday: ``The sewage will not disperse, but will wash up and down the Humber with the tides. When the tide is coming in it will be heading up the estuary at a considerable rate of knots.

``Hull does have a beach - a stretch of shingle about 30 yards long and 25 yards wide by the docks - but I think we would have some difficulty marketing ourselves as a seaside resort with Camparis, sunshine umbrellas and all the trimmings.''

Local MP Kevin McNamara, who plans to raise the matter in the Commons, said: ``We will of course apply for the EU's Blue Flag designation for our beach, but I fear that with all that excrement washing up and down the Humber this certificate of cleanliness may elude us.''

(Map omitted)