Britain faces legal action over bathing water quality

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The European Commission today ran out of patience with Britain over the quality of the nation's bathing water and announced the start of legal proceedings.

The European Commission today ran out of patience with Britain over the quality of the nation's bathing water and announced the start of legal proceedings.

It said the Government was still failing to meet all EU bathing water standards about 15 years after the deadline expired for complying with cleanliness rules.

A bathing water directive in 1976 gave member states time to match minimum quality standards based on bacteria levels in the water.

But the annual "check list" produced by Brussels on all EU coastal regions has shown consistent failure by the UK to meet the targets, a Commission statement said today.

After investigating a formal complaint, the Commission said: "An analysis of the available data by the Commission showed the complaint to be well-founded."

The UK's "rate of compliance" with the cleanliness norms is currently 88.7% according to the Commission.

Bathing water at a total of 56 points around the nation was not acceptable, in 1998, out of 496 areas surveyed.

In comparison, Ireland has a 98.4% compliance record, with only two holiday spots - Dunmore East, Main Strand, in Waterford, and Lady's Bay, Donegal, failing out of 121 sampled.

The Government has advised Brussels that Britain will achieve a 97% compliance rate by "the early millennium".

But, 15 years after 100% compliance was due, officials say it is time to press ahead with court action.

"The decision reflects the Commission's commitment to ensuring that the necessary measures are taken to ensure that bathing waters are properly protected against pollution across the European Union," said the statement.

The issue has already put the UK in the dock at the European Court of Justice. Six years ago the judges ruled that Britain was in breach of EU law because of the state of bathing water between Blackpool and Southport.

The most recent annual "check list" of seaside resorts highlighted the traditional resorts of the North West were still falling below minimum acceptable standards.

The west coast of Scotland at Troon and Ayr is also marked down, and one of North Yorkshire's resort spots - Staithes - was below par. In Northern Ireland only one spot out of 15 - Helen's Bay - failed the EU test. But overall the report signalled a "marginal improvement" in bathing water quality around the country.

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