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Come on in, the water is – officially – lovely

Some of you may remember horror stories in the press a year ago, predicting that Hastings was set to fail new and tougher EU regulations on bathing water quality. Toby Sargent reports on whether the prophets of doom were proved right, or if Southern Water rose to the challenge.

This time last year, The Guardian ran a piece with the headline ’25 English beaches likely to fail new European Union (EU) standards for swimming,’ which began with the grim forecast that ‘beaches in Blackpool, Ilfracombe, Hastings and Margate (are) among those set to fail new safety standards in 2015, despite water at public swimming spots being cleaner than ever last year.’

Wet summers causing pollution

Apparently 99.5 per cent of the country’s beaches met EU requirements in 2014, compared to only two thirds as recently as 1988. But new and tougher EU standards meant that the hard work done raising standards so far was about to be undone. And undone on some of the most famous and popular beaches in England.

Hastings water quality warning in Guardian May 2015

Press warning from May 2015

Why does a beach fail? Very often it’s to do with wet summers causing pollution to increase as drains overflow. And, in some cases, untreated sewage finds its way into the main outflows going out to sea without undergoing the rigorous cleansing procedures that are supposed to take place.

It’s all pretty repulsive, and opens up the ghastly possibility that people swimming in the sea thus affected will encounter E.coli, intestinal enterococci and other nasties, leading to stomach upsets and eye infections. Not a souvenir anyone would much want to bring back from a seaside holiday.

2,000 manhole covers lifted

Addressing the problem calls for big investment, hard work and determination from a whole range of stakeholders. In our case, Southern Water, the Environment Agency, the Hastings and Rother Voluntary Action Groups and Hastings Borough Council worked together to try to put things right. And Southern Water alone stumped up £3 million to help do just that.

More than 2,000 manhole covers were lifted and 1,200 individual properties were checked. Infrastructure has been upgraded so that the pipes for waste water and ‘clean’ surface water can’t get mixed up. And where domestic appliances producing ‘dirty’ water have been incorrectly installed – and this applied to 98 properties, apparently – the Council have got in touch with the owners to arrange for them to be put right.


Another project saw the Environment Agency – a body which normally only comes to our attention when the misery of flooding in Cumbria or the south west requires a scapegoat to get politicians off the hook – and the Council clean up the Alexandra Park stream.

And now the great news can be shared that all this work was successful, and Hastings satisfied the examiners, and has . . . passed the European Bathing Water Directive. As for the other 24 on the danger list a year ago, 14 also succeeded but 10 – including Wildersmouth near Ilfracombe and Combe Martin Devon, not to mention the aptly named East Looe in Cornwall – failed. And this means they will have to post official notices on their beaches advising people against going in the water.  And that’s no one’s idea of a tourist attraction.

‘Officially’ clean water

So there we are. Our brilliant new pier now presides over ‘officially’ clean water for bathers and swimmers.

Hastings tide May 2016

Clear and clean – a view from the pier

And let’s try to keep it that way. The Hastings and Rother voluntary groups I mentioned at the top of this piece are doing their bit here – forming a Clean Seas Please group, to promote good practice by everyone. They do excellent work, including an initiative to persuade everyone to limit what they put down the toilet to ‘the three Ps’: pee, poo and paper, with everything else going in the bin.

Let’s give the last word to John Spence, who is Head of Water Quality and Environment at Southern Water: “This is fantastic news for Hastings and demonstrates just how successful this collaborative way of working can be.”

Fantastic news indeed.


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Posted 12:50 Tuesday, May 31, 2016 In: Clean Seas Please!

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