Mothers win a battle in war for clean beach

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Environment Correspondent

Two mothers yesterday won an important battle in their legal campaign to get sewage debris including sanitary towels and condoms cleared from the West Country beach where they walk with their toddlers.

A High Court judge ordered their local council to reconsider its decision not to issue an abatement order forcing South West Water to halt the continuous sewage pollution of the beach at Porthtowan, near Redruth, Cornwall.

Most of it comes from a short pipe three miles along the coast, which takes untreated and unscreened sewage from the inland town of Camborne straight into the sea, close inshore.

The National Rivers Authority told the water company to install a screen on the pipe three years ago. But South West Water appealed against this order to John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, and he has still not taken a decision.

Rachel Shelley, 21, and Sara Delaney, 29, obtained a judicial review against Carrick District Council's refusal to issue an abatement order against South West Water.

The High Court heard that the beach was a ``park and playground'' for the mothers and their two toddler sons, both aged one, but solid items which had clearly come from the sewer were washed up through the year.

Their counsel argued that Carrick had a legal duty to crack down on the statutory nuisance and littering this represented. The council's lawyers argued that it was entitled not to issue an abatement order because the Secretary of State was already looking into the question of whether the pipe should have a screen on it.

Mr Justice Carnwarth said Carrick ``had failed to deal with the critical issue'' of whether a health risk or public nuisance was being caused by the sewage debris being washed ashore ``in an attractive bay and on a sandy beach''.

A delighted Sara Delaney said: ``Children have been denied their right to play on a clean beach. That was ultimately why we brought and carried on with the case. Hopefully others will now take action, too, to have clean beaches.''

The judge said it was ``extraordinary'' that Mr Gummer had still not decided on South West Water's appeal over installing a screen. A copy of yesterday's ruling is being sent to the Environment Secretary. A spokeswoman for the department said there were complex issues involved.

Last year South West Water settled out of court with a Devon mussel farmer who said sewage in the Taw and Torridge estuary had made his shellfish unfit for human consumption and destroyed his business.

South West Water is spending pounds 1bn through the 1990s in cleaning up coastal discharges; that is why it has the highest water bills in Britain.

Carrick District Council said it would be rapidly reconsidering its decision in the light of the court ruling.

South West Water said it would wait and see what Carrick decided, but accepted that at least some of the sewage came from its outfall.