Is the new Bathing Water Directive being correctly implemented in the UK, asks Marinet

In a History written by Marinet of the old and new EU Bathing Water Directives, 76/160/EEC and 2006/7/EC, the long struggle to implement these Directives is recorded, along with the equally long struggle — only partially successful — to secure the implementation of the full rigour of the monitoring regimes and attendant health standards which these Directives require.

In the case of the new Directive, 2006/7/EC, which has been operational since 2015 a limited preliminary analysis by Marinet suggests that the monitoring regime and implementation of the Directive is being “manipulated” in a manner comparable to strategies employed by government with the old Directive.

If correct, this is of concern because the true nature of the level of sewage pollution at English bathing beaches — and possibly in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland too — is being concealed from the public. If correct, this not only misrepresents the level of health risk that members of the sea bathing public are likely to experience, but is also in contravention of the legally mandated procedures for the implementation of the Directive.

Marinet’s study is provisional and confined to just three bathing beaches in North West England — Ainsdale (Pontins Southport Holiday Centre), Southport (Southport Pier) and Blackpool (Blackpool Central) — and analyses the bathing results for 2016 and 2017.

Under the provisions of the new Directive samples which fail to meet the quality standard can be discounted (exempted) if “abnormal conditions” prevailed at the time. The discounted sample needs to be retaken once these abnormal conditions have ceased. This can be applied to a maximum of 15% of the samples taken during the bathing season (20 samples are normally taken, so this means 3 samples are potentially discountable). Abnormal conditions are such events as heavy rain (thunderstorm) or failure of the sewage works, and the applicability of a specific abnormal event can only be repeated as a general rule once in every 4 years.

In the case of the Southport and Blackpool beaches analysed, it was found that the “discount” procedure was applied 3 times in each case during 2016 and 2017. This enabled both beaches to be classed as Good Standard. (Note: The quality standards under the new Directive are Excellent, Good, Sufficient and Poor based upon microbiological criteria).

Marinet queries whether the unique abnormal events that applied in 2016 were in fact also re-occurring in 2017, thus no longer making them unique but also not allowable under the terms of the Directive?

If so, this raises the question of whether these beaches did correctly attain the Good Standard in 2017.

Marinet also took a look at the 2016 and 2017 monitoring results for the adjacent beach to Blackpool Central, namely Blackpool North (North Pier), and found that in 2017 Blackpool North only attained the Sufficient Standard with 3 sample discounted. In the previous year (2016) Blackpool North attained the Good Standard with 3 samples discounted, but were the abnormal events occurring in 2016 repeated in 2017? If so, the 3 discounted samples in 2017 were possibly technically illegal, thus raising the possibility that Blackpool North actually only attained the Poor Standard in 2017.

The Poor Standard is essentially a “failure” under the rules of the new Directive, and if a beach fails 5 years in succession (Poor Standard repeated) then bathing at that location must be prohibited.

Such a result would not only be very embarrassing for Blackpool and its seaside bathing credentials, but it is also to be noted that it was a prosecution by the EU in the 1980s of the quality of Blackpool’s bathing waters that led to the full implementation by the British government of the old Directive, 76/160/EEC, into UK law.

Is history about to repeat itself?

The answer to this question would require detailed further analysis and research to determine whether “manipulation” of the monitoring regime is actually occurring, not just in the North West of England but throughout the UK as a whole.

In the absence of this research at the present time, and an organisation with the resources to undertake it, what can be reliably asserted is that sewage pollution of bathing waters remains widespread, and the public need to exercise great caution in deciding where it is safe to go bathing in the sea.


Marinet observes: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” — the more things change, the more they stay the same. This being so, it a very poor commentary upon those responsible authorities upon whom we rely.


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