YORKSHIRE’S beaches are set to be named some of the best in the country tomorrow but trouble is looming on the horizon as new strict European Union regulations mean even award-winning stretches of coastline could be declared unsafe by 2015.
The Yorkshire Post understands that more than 15 beaches in the region are set to scoop prizes in tomorrow’s annual Keep Britain Tidy awards recognising coastal destinations with high standards of water quality, cleanliness, safety and environmental management – giving it more Quality Coast Awards (QCAs) than any other area in the country.
Almost a third of these are believed to be Blue Flag awards – the highest possible accolade – with Scarborough North, Whitby and Filey all tipped to retain their Blue Flag status.
But with tough new EU water standards set to be imposed in 2015, many beaches along the Yorkshire coast, even ones which are currently deemed award-winning, could have swimming bans imposed unless they are dramatically cleaned up, in what would be a hammer blow to the area’s vital tourist industry.
Staithes and Robin Hood’s Bay, near Whitby, and Fraisthorpe and Bridlington South, in the East Riding, are all expected to fail unless pollution is addressed.
Robert Goodwill, the Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby, said: “When these new EU standards come in, the beaches will be just as clean as they were before but in some cases they will suddenly fail.
“Everyone along the North Yorkshire coast is very worried about this.
“Tourism is the number one economy along the coast.
“While I welcome the work the EU has done to continue to improve the quality of bathing water, the current standards which are set seem entirely appropriate to protect people’s health.
“Twenty years ago the sewage in Scarborough went straight out into the sea then it was taken further out but could still come back in with the tide, now it is treated at a state-of-the-art sewage works nearby in Burniston. Some of the credit for our beaches doing so well in these awards needs to go to local authorities and Yorkshire Water which has invested millions in improvements.”
A Government analysis has revealed 51 beaches in England and Wales are projected to fail the new water standards in 2015.
Under the new regime, signs will be put up advising people against swimming and a permanent ban would be implemented in 2020 if standards did not improve.
Rob Rymer, chair of the Robin Hood’s Bay Tourism Association, whose beach is expected to receive a Quality Coast Award tomorrow, said it was an absurd situation.
“The beach is very important to us”, he said.
“It is a strange situation that we can win this award one week, then in a few years people will be told it is suddenly not safe to swim.
“It would be a real shame for the area but also something that would put tourists off.
“I would be very surprised if we did fail under the new regulations – as these awards show it is safe to swim.”
In anticipation of the new European Revised Bathing Water Directive, a multi-agency partnership was launched in Yorkshire last November, to ensure that the region’s bathing waters can achieve the new “excellent” standard.
The partnership consists of Yorkshire Water, the Environment Agency, Scarborough Borough Council, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, North Yorkshire County Council, the National Farmers Union and Defra, and is working to try and achieve eight blue flags along Yorkshire’s 50 mile coastline by 2015.
Yorkshire Water is investing £110m as part of the partnership to upgrade its waste water facilities on the East Coast
An Environment Agency spokesman says it has a detailed action plan in place across England and Wales and hopes that by 2015 many of the 51 beaches predicted to fail – which also include Blackpool, Morecambe South and Saltburn – will have made enough improvements to meet the tougher standards being brought in by the EU.