Yorkshire beaches may wave goodbye to blue flags as Europe moves goalposts

ONLY two beaches in Yorkshire look set to retain their prestigious Blue Flags when stringent new rules are introduced.

While Scarborough North Bay and Whitby would keep the award, Filey, Bridlington North and South beaches, Hornsea and Withernsea could lose theirs for several years.

It comes after the body that oversees the Europe-wide Blue Flag scheme “moved the goalposts”, introducing much tougher standards, two years ahead of schedule.

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A partnership made up of Yorkshire Water, which is spending millions to improve the quality of bathing waters, the Environment Agency, Welcome to Yorkshire and local councils, are lobbying administrator Keep Britain Tidy to hold off until 2015, when a new EU directive, which they were working towards, comes into force.

Peter Stevenson, from the Environment Agency, said: “Keep Britain Tidy (responsible for administering the Blue Flag scheme in the UK) is part of the European group Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), which has said they will start to use the new standards Europe-wide from next year, although the Bathing Water Directive in this country doesn’t come into force until 2015.

“The new ‘excellent’ standard is roughly twice as stringent as the current standard, and will be based on this year’s data and the last three years data. In the worst case scenario you could be three years (2013/14, 2014/15) without a Blue Flag for the five.”

A partnership involving Yorkshire Water, the Environment Agency, Welcome to Yorkshire, Scarborough Borough Council, East Riding Council and North Yorkshire County Council is working to secure eight Blue Flags for Yorkshire’s coast.

Mr Stevenson said: “We are still lobbying through the partnership to try and get Keep Britain Tidy to change their stance. It seems odd to us that we are working to achieve something which comes into force in 2015, but they are starting to use the goalposts three years earlier.”

Yorkshire Water is investing £110m into improving its sewerage network. Claire Glavina, from Yorkshire Water, said they’d scheduled to complete their investment in 2014. She said: “We understand Keep Britain Tidy’s position, but we’d like people to remember that by bringing these standards in early it means that beaches will need to meet higher standards for blue flags, not that water quality has necessarily declined.”

President of Bridlington Tourism Association Bob Hillery said: “Whilst we would severely regret losing the flags, it is not the end of the world and I have no doubt we will get them back. We will probably finish up with some of the cleanest beaches in the country.”

Welcome to Yorkshire described the situation as “very frustrating.” A spokeswoman said: “Meetings are taking place between FEE, Keep Britain Tidy and various water authorities to try to get them to delay bringing in the higher standards, until the point Yorkshire Water has done the work they need to do. Yorkshire Water is the only authority in the country currently doing that.

“We are all aiming towards 2015, it doesn’t make any sense to bring it in earlier.”

Richard Mcilwain, from Keep Britain Tidy, said they had raised the issue with Copenhagen-based FEE several times. Nationally they expected between 20 and 30 per cent of beaches to lose their Blue Flags. He said: “What FEE have decided is that they are going to adopt the very tightest of the new standards. We are not the arbiter of the standard. They are adamant that 2013 is the date it is due to come in at.

“There will be a communication issue for a couple of years whereby we need to explain that standards for FEE are tighter.”