EU water rules set test for beaches

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DIRTY BEACHES in Britain, including Blackpool, may have to close as a result of proposed European Union legislation, environmental campaigners said yesterday.

However, both the Government and environmentalists claimed victory after the European Commission issued a proposal to modify existing legislation on the quality of bathing water.

The Government believes it has won a significant advance in applying subsidiarity, the principle that decisions should be taken at the most appropriate level.

The commission proposed new measures following pressure to modify and consolidate existing legislation. Britain has fallen foul of the EU's directives on water quality on a number of occasions and wanted to ensure that any action respected subsidiarity, a central part of the Maastricht treaty.

But yesterday environmental campaigners said the new proposed standards were at least as tough as the old and the key test would be how the legislation was applied. They include a measure which says that member states 'must prohibit bathing' at beaches which significantly fail to meet mandatory standards. Beaches at 29 British resorts failed to meet these standards last year, including Blackpool, Brighton, Southport, Cleethorpes and Great Yarmouth.

The legislation also includes a mandatory guideline on the level of faecal strepticocci, minute bacteria that are an indicator of viruses in the water that cause illness.

The bathing water directive is the first to emerge, and is something of a test case. Environmentalists have said that subsidiarity should not mean a fall in standards.