Defra announced today (Tuesday) that Staithes would be de-designated as a bathing site before the 2016 season begins on the grounds of low usage.
The area of coastline has repeatedly failed to reached European Union standards for water quality, and last year, Scarborough Borough Council asked the Government to remove it from the list of bathing beaches due to low usage.
A consultation last August and September received 206 responses - with just five in favour of de-designation, Defra’s report said.
Most responses commented on water quality, but were overwhelming in favour of retaining bathing status - with 66 saying they or their families used Staithes for swimming, paddling, surfing and other activities.
The report said the final decision also took into account Scarborough Council’s beach usage survey, carried out over 20 days in the between August and October last year, which showed the total number of beach users counted was 6,346, of whom 35 were swimmers and 362 were paddling. On average, there were fewer than two people per day swimming in the water; 18 people paddling and 320 beach users.
The report said: “Although the beach attracts a large number of visitors, the number of people bathing is very low. Staithes will be removed from the list of bathing waters before the 2016 bathing season on the grounds of low usage for bathing.”
Yorkshire MEP Timothy Kirkhope, who has long campaigned for a solution to the pollution at Staithes, said he was “puzzled” at the decision, called it a “stitch up” between Defra and Scarborough Council - and questioned the thoroughness of the consultation.
“Defra states that key stakeholders had been emailed - well I hadn’t,” he told the Yorkshire Post. “I think this is a bit of travesty - no proper consultation has taken place.
“Using the argument that it’s down to low usage rather than the argument that it is failing to meet EU regulations for bathing water is appalling. Are they suggesting more people should be using it in its current state?
“You have a bay that is still being used by tourism authorities to drive people to a lovely area to visit - yet they aren’t prepared to spend the money needed to get the bathing quality.
“This has been a stitch up between Scarborough Borough Council and the Government.”
He said independent water engineers had suggested a method to improve water quality by opening up part of the harbour wall to free the tidal flow in the bay. Pollution in the bay is largely caused by run off from agricultural land entering the water and getting stuck in the bay.
Mr Kirkhope said he would be writing to Defra to challenge the decision and raise concerns about how the consultation was carried out.
He also raised concerns that the ruling could damage tourism in Staithes.
“Are they going to put up notices saying ‘warning, stay out’? They need to ensure that nothing adverse happens to Staithes,” he added
Campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) said communities would be “robbed” of the opportunity to benefit from the much needed environmental improvements because of the decision.
It will be challenging the Staithes de-designation decision with the Environment Minister, as it believes the local authority beach user survey demonstrates “significant numbers” use the water and need protecting. It said the beach users survey equated to an estimated 44,160 people using the beach during the bathing season with 2,484 going in the sea for a paddle and a further 276 swimming.
Andy Cummins, SAS Campaigns Director said: “I grew up surfing the great waves along the east coast and Staithes really is the jewel in the east coast’s crown. It’s a disappointment regulators are allowing this beach to be de-designated as a bathing water as the local community, the tourist economy and the water sports users will all suffer.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “Following an extensive consultation, Staithes will no longer be on the bathing water list due to low user numbers.
“Our coastal waters are better protected than ever and this site will remain protected under other EU water quality directives.”
A spokesperson for Scarborough Borough Council said: “Having only just received the results of the de-designation application ourselves, we now need to discuss them with our partner organisations in the Yorkshire Bathing Water Partnership and set out how we will continue to support Staithes in the future, particularly regarding the village’s key strengths as part of the Yorkshire coast visitor economy; strengths that are not reliant on the quality of the bathing water.
“We can confirm that our consultation in relation to the proposed de-designation, which was carried out in the summer of 2015, was comprehensive and open to both key stakeholders and members of the public.”