A campaign led by local residents, the Ilkley Clean Rivers Group and Ilkley Town Council secured government approval for the bathing water designation last year - meaning the Wharfe is the first British river to be granted the DEFRA status. The new classification requires the Environment Agency to conduct regular testing and monitoring of the water quality and take action to address pollution.
Yet the campaign's success - which was motivated by a desire to end sewage overflows from Yorkshire Water's nearby treatment plant into the river - coincided with one of the busiest summers Ilkley Riverside Parks had ever experienced and a new visitor management plan has consequently been drawn up.
In a virtual 'town hall' meeting held by Yorkshire Water on Thursday, Bradford Council area co-ordinator Jonathan Hayes spoke about safety management for the pebble beaches and East Holmes Field during hot weather following well-publicised issues with anti-social behaviour, littering and dangerous parking in 2020. The river attracted large groups of youths, some of whom had travelled from as far as Manchester, and became a 'party' spot with fighting and drug use reported.
Mr Hayes confirmed that there had been 'overwhelming public support' for the council's application for a Public Spaces Protection Order, which gives police additional enforcement powers to move troublemakers away from the area covered by the order, and that this should be in place from June 1.
He added that there will be additional warden patrols this year and that events and activities will be organised for young people. Smaller litter bins on East Holmes Field have been replaced by several large trade waste bins as evidence found people were more likely to use them than leave bags of 'side litter' beside overflowing small bins.
There will be more parking restrictions in place, including on Denton Road and in a lay-by used by ice cream vans last summer which raised child safety concerns.
Regarding signage, Mr Hayes said new signs would be in place advising swimming upstream of the sewage works and featuring maps and discharge points. The Royal Lifesaving Society has visited the site to conduct a risk assessment, and further signs will depict hazards. 'No swimming' signs are no longer permitted because of the DEFRA designation.
He added that the water itself will be unclassified in its first season until a full summer of regular testing has been completed.
The MP for Keighley, Robbie Moore, concluded the meeting by confirming that the government iis hoping to roll out similar public-led bathing water designation schemes at other rivers around the country, and that environment minister Rebecca Pow MP is taking a personal interest in the success of the project and hopes to visit Ilkley.