Published: October 16, 2013
New concerns over impact of EU's sea water rules on Burnham

Fresh concerns at new EU regulations which could have a 'devastating' impact on Burnham-On-Sea's tourism economy have been expressed by town councillors this week.

The strict new EU Bathing Waters Directive, due to come into force in 2015, could lead to the town being labled as having poor sea water quality, leading to new signs being introduced by the EU advising against swimming and paddling.

Burnham currently holds a Seaside Award from campaign group Keep Britain Tidy, as reported here in May, recognising the quality of its beaches and cleanliness.

However, the Environment Agency's Environment Manager, Jim Flory, told a meeting of town councillors on Monday that Burnham's sea water would currently be classed as "borderline poor" if it were assessed today using the guidelines of the new EU directive.

The new rules will see the introduction of higher standards that are approximately twice as stringent. Beaches will be classed as excellent, good, sufficient or poor - and Burnham is currently on a list of 20 resorts in the south west at risk.

Mr Flory said that if Burnham's sea water were classified as poor, signs would have to be displayed on beaches advising people against bathing, swimming or paddling and that if there is no improvement within five years a 'ban' could come into force.

The Environment Agency is currently trying to raise awareness of the new regulations and explain how local businesses and residents can help raise the standard.

"Bacteria in the water comes from many sources - agricultural, animals, urban run-off, residents and beach visitors, " said Mr Flory. "Lots is being done by the Environment Agency to address the problem but we need the help of local communities too - avoiding littering and dog fouling on beaches, checking that plumbing runs into the right sewers, avoiding feeding gulls and encouraging beach cleans."

Cllr Peter Burridge-Clayton asked why Weston has received £35million of investment from the water board to improve its sea water quality while Burnham has received nothing.

Mr Flory said Burnham is "a lot bigger problem to resolve than Weston" due to its location with several rivers - the Brue and Parrett - joining the estuary.

Cllr Helen Groves said: "Sedgemoor District Council could be bidding for central government funding to try and help Burnham address the matter."

Cllr Ken Smout told the meeting he is concerned about the negative impact that the Environment Agency's communication on the changes could have on local tourism.

"We need to sell Burnham as a tourist destination - this could have a devastating impact on our economy," he said.

Mr Flory, pictured right, said that while the Environment Agency is aware of the potential impact, it "has a legal obligation to tell the public the full facts."

Earlier this year, Burnham's Tourist Centre Manager Ian Jefferies said: "The EU regulations could hit us badly - they are unrealistic for estuary resorts like Burnham where there is lots of silt in the sea water. Nothing has changed for the worse about our water quality, just the way it is being monitored."

Pictured: Top, Nick Malone of the Environment Agency taking a water sample in Burnham earlier this year and, above, the agency's Jim Flory. Below, councillors listening to Monday's presentation

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