Europe in Action: Blackpool seawater condemned: On the day the House of Lords debates Maastricht, Brussels hands down three decisions affecting British life

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The Independent Online
BLACKPOOL, the symbol of the traditional British seaside holiday, was condemned by the European Court of Justice yesterday for having dirty water off its beaches.

The Lancashire resort, which attracts 15 million visitors a year, does not meet European Commission cleanliness standards on sewage pollution. Neighbouring Southport also failed to meet EC regulations.

The court's ruling provoked an angry reaction in Blackpool from hoteliers and officials. The Government dismissed it as a technicality.

The judges said that Britain had breached international agreements 'by failing to take all the necessary measures to ensure that the quality of the bathing waters in Blackpool and of those adjacent to Southport conforms to the limit values set'.

The standards were set by Brussels in 1975 and all EC governments given 10 years to meet rigorous new limits on sewage contamination. The court dismissed Britain's plea that it has not had enough time to complete the clean-up operation.

The case hinged on whether Blackpool was covered by the directive. The Government argued that the resort was only affected from 1987, when the criteria were widened, which would give Britain another four years to comply.

The EC began the case three years ago after complaints from Friends of the Earth (FoE) and others. Although the court cannot impose a penalty, the Government will have to pay costs and the ruling is a blow to the image of Britain's most famous resort.

John Hall, Blackpool's deputy director of tourism, said the resort is the victim of a row between Britain and the EC. 'We are only being used as specimens which have been hauled over the coals every time. It is certainly going to harm Blackpool right at the start of the holiday season.'

Nick Hawkins, Tory MP for Blackpool South, said the decision was based on the state of the water three years ago and clean-up schemes have since made it perfectly safe for swimming.

John Donovan, secretary of the Blackpool Hotel and Guest House Association, said: 'They have far bigger problems abroad where they have sewers running into the streets, but we always get the brunt of it . . . People don't go into the sea because it is too cold, not because it is dirty.' But Liana Stupples, water campaigner for FoE, said: 'The court has defended the British public's right to sewage- free beaches. Without a major change in the Government's attitude, Britain seems set to become a persistent offender.' The Government is confident that a pounds 2bn clean-up operation will bring all but nine of Britain's beaches up to scratch by 1996. Tim Yeo, the Environment Minister, said: 'The commission has accepted that we are doing everything possible to bring these bathing waters up to standard as soon as practicable.'

A belated programme of improving coastal sewage disposal is now going ahead and is one reason why water customers' bills have been rising by more than the rate of inflation.

Blackpool's effluent is being given a daily dose of thousands of gallons of disinfectant which kills bacteria and de-activates viruses. But this is only a temporary solution and by 1996 North West Water should have completed a pounds 150m pipe to take treated sewage three miles out to sea.

The new pipeline will replace three pipes which run out just half a mile. One of these, under the promenade, deposits up to 20 million gallons (91m litres) of raw sewage a day in summer.