Councils drop plans to sue beach guide: Resorts dropped from handbook advised that they have no rights to damages

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The Independent Online
LOCAL authorities whose beaches were dropped from the Heinz Good Beach Guide because of alleged sewage pollution have abandoned plans for legal action against the publishers. They have been told they have no rights to damages because they do not 'own' the seawater.

However, the Tidy Britain Group, the government-sponsored organisation accused in the guide of 'the most outrageous environmental trickery', said yesterday it was 'very seriously considering' issuing a libel suit against the authors, the Marine Conservation Society, an independent voluntary body.

Bournemouth in Dorset and Sandown on the Isle of Wight were two of 74 beaches including many resorts, dropped from the guide, published this week, because of tighter standards on water quality. The society has apologised to both resorts for wrongly stating that they had failed European bathing water standards. However, neither beach will be reinstated. The society yesterday insisted that the latest research indicates that even beaches that meet the strictest European standards may be a health hazard.

The guide has produced an angry reaction from many resorts and bitter words between the society and the Tidy Britain Group, which last year launched its own Seaside Awards. In response to the society's claim that the Seaside Awards were 'trickery' to give beaches an award even when they had failed the European Blue Flag water criteria, the TBG responded with the threat of a libel suit, accusing the society of 'hysterical scare-mongering' based on 'incomplete and unsubstantiated research'. Bournemouth hoteliers are said to be considering a boycott of Heinz products.

Ken Male, the town's head of tourism, yesterday described the guide as grossly misleading and 'fundamentally flawed'. Bournemouth has been told by the Department of the Environment that it meets both the mandatory standards laid down in the European bathing water directive and the guideline standards, which are 20 times more stringent. However, Mr Male said the legal advice to Sandown and Bournemouth is that they do not have sufficient rights to take legal action. Local authorities cannot sue for defamation. 'We don't own the water so nothing owned by us has been maligned . . . It's a stand-off.'

The Department of the Environment says a beach meets EC guideline levels on water quality if 95 per cent of its samples pass the lower mandatory standard and 80 per cent pass the stricter guideline standard. On this measure, Bournemouth and Sandown pass. But the society argues that new research from the Water Research Centre, commissioned by the department, shows that these standards may not protect bathers. The research, at Paignton in Devon, showed that water which fulfilled the British criteria nevertheless resulted in one-third of bathers suffering illnesses.

The TBG argues that as only 15 per cent of visitors to a beach go into the water, the guide over- emphasises water quality at the expense of land-based facilities and cleanliness.

SITES THAT PASSED THE TEST

Recommended beaches in the Heinz Good Beach Guide 1993: the following beaches have passed the guideline standards of the European Community Bathing Water Directive, are excellent to visit and have not been reported as littered or otherwise polluted in any of the surveys run by the Marine Conservation Society.

South-west England

Woolacombe, Devon; Shipload Bay, Hartland Quay, Devon; Sandy Mouth, Bude, Cornwall; Widemouth Sands, Cornwall; Polzeath, Cornwall; Constantine Bay, Treyarnon, Cornwall; Crantock, Cornwall; The Towans, Hayle, St Ives, Cornwall; Porthmeor, St Ives, Cornwall; Whitesand Bay, Sennen Cove, Cornwall; Poldhu Cove, Mullion, Cornwall; Kynance Cove, The Lizard, Cornwall; Kennack Sands, Kuggar, Cornwall; Towan Beach, Cornwall (not Towan Beach, Newquay); Pendowar Beach, Veryan, Cornwall; Whitesand Bay, Freathy, Cornwall; Wembury, Devon; Bigbury-on-Sea, Devon; Slapton Sands, Devon; Blackpool Sands, Devon; Watcombe to Maidencombe, Devon; Sidmouth - Jacob's Ladder, Devon; Seatown Bridport, Devon; West Bay, Dorset; Burton Bradstock, Dorset; Durdle Door, Dorset; Sandbanks, Poole, Dorset; Highcliffe, Dorset; Compton Bay, Isle of Wight.

South-east England

Lee-on-the-Solent, Hants; Stokes Bay, Hampshire; Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex; Botany Bay, Kent; Aldeburgh, Suffolk; Southwold, The Denes, Suffolk; South Beach Lowestoft, Suffolk; Hunstanton, Norfolk; Sea Palling, Norfolk.

East coast

Druridge, Northumberland; Warkworth, Northumberland; Alnmouth, Northumberland; Low Newton, Northumberland; Beadnell, Northumberland; Bamburgh, Northumberland.

Scotland

Pease Sands, Berwickshire; Thortonloch, Lothian; Duncansby Head, Highland; Sandside Bay, Highland; Colbackie, Highland; Balnakeil Bay, Highland; Scourie, Highland; Clashnessie, Highland; Clachtoll, Highland; Achmelvich, Highland; Achnahaird, Highland; Achiltibuie, Highland; Gruinard Bay, Highland; Applecross, Highland; The Coral Beaches, Highland; Morar, Highland; Carmusdarrach, Highland; Traigh, Highland; Sanna Bay, Highland; Calgary Bay, Highland; Erraid, Highland.

North-west England

No recommended beaches.

Wales

Porth Oer, Gwynedd; Mwnt, Cardigan; Abereiddy, Dyfed; Whitesand Bay, Dyfed; Barafundle Bay, Dyfed; Pembrey, Dyfed; Rhosili, Glamorgan; Port Eynon, Glamorgan; Oxwich, Glamorgan.

Northern Ireland

Benone, Londonderry; West Bay Strand, Port Rush, Co Antrim; Crawfordsburn, Co Down; Tyrella, Co Down; Cranfield, Co Down.

Jersey

Archirondel; St Brelade; Portelet; St Ouens; Plemont; Greve de Lecq.

Guernsey

Pembroke Beach; Petit Bot Bay; L'Eree Beach; Vazon Beach; Cobo Beach; Port Soif.

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