December 9, 2014
Groups urged to help Burnham meet EU's strict new water regulations

Wessex Water, the Environment Agency, the Drainage Board and Sedgemoor District Council have this week been asked do all they can to improve the quality of Burnham's bathing water ahead of new EU regulations coming into force next year.

The matter was raised at a meeting of the Sedgemoor District Council Community Scrutiny Committee on Monday (December 8th).

A change to EU policy back in 2006 has meant that the current classification of bathing water will change next year to a more demanding set of criteria. The change means that bathing water off Burnham might fall below the new standards unless improvements are made across the Rivers Brue and Parrett catchment areas.

Burnham town councillors Ken Smout and Chris Williams attended the meeting and said it had been helpful to again raise the profile of the issue. "It showed how we all have to work together - residents, businesses, councils and agencies to address the issue," he said.

Burnham Conservative James Heappey, who also attended, challenged the perceived delay in getting to grips with this problem, saying: "I have seen press releases from Wessex Water and the Environment Agency which talk about the complexity in developing new models to understand the impact of these changes on bathing water at Burnham."

"I have no doubt that these models are indeed complex and would certainly have meant that those responsible could not have started to make the necessary improvements immediately but I would simply note that over the same length of time - between 1961 and 1969 - NASA completed a project that put a man on the moon!"

"I brought Julie Girling MEP to Burnham in July so that she could bring her significant expertise to bear on this issue. Mrs Girling has subsequently met with Wessex Water and has written to you separately today. I know that she is encouraged by the plans that are now in place but notes that they are at least a year too late."

"If the result of that tardiness is that Burnham must display signs that dissuade tourists from visiting then that delay could prove to be very costly for our local economy... the risk of missing these targets is being carried by the Burnham-on-Sea tourist industry. We owe it to them to put that right not as a matter of routine maintenance but as a priority and well before there is any danger of those signs becoming permanent."

Representatives of Wessex Water and the Environment Agency defended their actions to date and outlined their plans for rectifying the issues that have been identified across the 850 square mile catchment area.

They reassured councillors that they were working in partnership with local authorities to deliver the improvements necessary and that they had already taken a large number of enforcement actions against those found to be causing the pollution.

After the meeting, Mr Heappey said: "The authorities are on this and the amount that they plan to invest is significant but I will continue to hold them to account and to make sure this receives the priority it should. We must also make sure we do our bit by disposing of cooking oils correctly, cleaning up after our dogs, not feeding the seagulls on the sea front and making sure litter goes in the bins. Our target should not be to hit the minimum standards but to aim for the very highest."

Neither Wessex Water, the Environment Agency nor Sedgemoor District Council were able to make any guarantees about the initial classification of the water when the new system comes into being next year but all demonstrated their commitment to improving the quality of the water before the warning signs became permanent.


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