July 29, 2014
Four-step action plan unveiled to improve Burnham's sea water quality

A four-step action plan has this week been drawn up to help Burnham-On-Sea improve its sea water quality and reduce the impact of new EU bathing water regulations due to come into force from next year.

The proposals have been put together during a meeting in Burnham attended by the region's Member of the European Parliament Julie Girling along with Conservative parliamentary candidate James Heappey, town councillor Ken Smout and residents, the Chamber of Trade and the Environment Agency.

The town was recently named as one of 45 UK destinations where sea swimming could be banned from 2015 when new tougher EU water standards are introduced.

Burnham faces having to put up signs in 2016 marking its beach as unsuitable for paddling or swimming, which it's feared could hurt local tourism. And while Burnham's beach was recently awarded a Seaside Award for its cleanliness and high standards, the quality of the sea water itself is in the spotlight.

MEP Julie Girling said she would be taking up with Wessex Water why the firm has not little to help Burnham meet the new guidelines so far. "We have all known about these new regulations for the past six years and I think more could have therefore been done by Wessex Water to address the problem," she told


The four-step plan is to:

1. Push Wessex Water for improvements to its facilities in the Burnham area

2. Launch a policy to encourage residents and businesses to reduce pollution

3. Encourage local farmers to address run-off from farmland into rivers

4. Seek government funding to promote Burnham's tourism industry to offset the issue

She added: "Burnham can help itself by addressing the problem across the community. A 'charter' could be put together to improve the water standards by everyone working together to reduce pollution and thinking more about what goes down the drains or is left on beaches - every single resident and business can play a part in that."

"I am hopeful that we can also get extra work carried out by Wessex Water to help Burnham. We will also be talking to DEFRA about how they can help farmers ensure run-off from nearby farmland is reduced to avoid it coming into the estuary."

The Environment Agency's Nic Malone says it is working to help Burnham improve its bathing water standards through good practice. It is educating firms, residents and farmers about how they can reduce pollution.

Mr Heappey said the meeting had been very positive. "It's really good to get the key representatives together to talk this issue through and put together a plan of how Burnham can address the matter. I recently met several Burnham's business representatives during a visit to Burnham Chamber of Trade and have said I will do all I can to help."

Meanwhile, Mr Heappey also discussed the matter with Liz Truss, the government's new Environment Secretary, when she visited Somerset this week.

He raised the need to help farmers improve the way they hold their slurry and the management of other agricultural pollutants that are partly responsible for the water quality issues off Burnham.

"I asked Liz to prioritise grant applications for farmyard upgrades from farms that were deemed by the Environment Agency to be in the parts of the catchment area that most affected bathing water quality in the town," said Mr Heappey.

"She is going to ask her Department to look at how that might be achieved and we will continue to work together to help improve the quality of Burnham’s bathing water."

The new EU water quality plans have been featured several times by in recent years, including here last October when town councillors expressed 'deep concern' about the impact of the changes on the tourism industry.

UPDATE: Wessex Water said that it was not asked to attend the meeting with Julie Girling MEP, councillors and the Environment Agency, but has since offered to meet Mrs Girling to explain more about improvements planned for the area.

The company said that investigations showed there were a number of contributory factors that affected bathing water quality in the Burnham area and added that to tackle one of the pollution sources, it was investing around £38m on increasing stormwater storage, installing UV equipment at sewage works to treat sewage to an even higher standard as well as installing monitoring equipment.

A company spokesman added: "Although the Directive came into existence in 2006, the understanding of what the main influences are on the bathing water at Burnham Jetty has only been arrived at far more recently. This took a lot of complex modelling work between the Environment Agency and Wessex Water."

"While the substantial investment we are making will make a significant difference, there is further work that needs to be done by other organisations to help improve water quality in the area."

Wessex Water said it is currently designing up engineering solutions and its work is likely to start around 2016-17.


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