November 6, 2015
Tourism fightback starts after EU gives Burnham 'poor' sea water grade

Tourism bosses in Burnham-On-Sea say the town remains a great destination for holidaymakers despite its sea water quality being officially graded 'poor' this week under new EU bathing water standards.

The long-expected announcement came on Thursday that bathing water standards at Burnham Jetty have been rated 'poor' while Berrow is classed as 'good' and Brean 'excellent'.

Ian Jefferies, business and tourism manager at Burnham's tourist information centre, right, told "It's the EU water testing process that has changed, not our sea water quality, so the bathing standards have not worsened in any way here in Burnham."

"We have known this announcement was coming for several years, so I'm disappointed that more has not been done to help Burnham, but it shouldn't put off holidaymakers."

"We have marvellous award-winning beaches in Burnham and super attractions for visitors and residents locally. This is a great destination regardless of the EU's water quality grading. Our seven miles of sandy beaches are among the best in the whole region - and that's the message we are promoting."

Burnham's MP James Heappey said on Thursday that the news is 'a blow for Burnham and local residents', adding that he is confident Burnham will meet the more stringent standards in the future.

Mr Heappey, right, told "I have been disappointed to see that the bathing water at Burnham-on-Sea’s Jetty has been graded poor under new EU bathing water grades."

"The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs were taking questions in the House of Commons and so I was immediately able to raise this important local issue with the Minister responsible. On Monday, in preparation for today’s announcement, I attended the Bathing Water Quality Multi-Agency Steering Group at the Drainage Board in Highbridge to hear about the plans in place to address this by the Environment Agency, Natural England, Wessex Water and Sedgemoor District Council."

The MP added: "I know that a great deal of investment has already been made and all are clear on what must be done. I have every confidence that they will continue in their work and that Burnham will meet the standards in the future."

"However, this is a blow for Burnham and local residents and businesses will expect progress to be quick and no stone left unturned so that this is put right as soon as possible. Whilst I accept that the quality of the water has not deteriorated – this is purely the consequence of a change in classification by the EU – we cannot hide behind that."

"Burnham-On-Sea has always been a fantastic place to come on holiday, tens of thousands of families do so every year and they have a great time whilst they’re here."

"But reputations can be lost quickly and so we must accelerate our efforts to make sure that this grade is improved and Burnham remains a fantastic place to come on holiday for centuries to come."

A Burnham-On-Sea Chamber of Trade spokesman added: "The news is disappointing, albeit not unexpected, and we will work with local businesses to help promote a positive message about the many great quality facilitities and attractions that the Burnham area has to offer."

A spokesperson for Sedgemoor's Bathing Water Quality Group said on Thursday that it is "pleased that the beach at Brean has been classed as 'excellent' and Berrow as 'good' under the revised Bathing Water standards. However, the group is disappointed that the sea water quality at Burnham Beach has been classified as ‘Poor’. The beach is very near to the estuaries of two main rivers that flow from a huge catchment area."

"The bathing water quality at Burnham beach has not deteriorated. However, as a result of new legislation and an improved understanding of the link between bacteria levels and bather health risk, water quality sampling is now more stringent with new standards coming into force in for the 2015 season. These changes have the effect of ‘raising the bar’ for sampling and are twice as strict as the previous standards."

"There is a huge catchment area related to the sea at Burnham-On-Sea and the bathing beach is located at the mouth of the two large rivers that drain this area. There is not one discharge source causing the problems; there are 'thousands' of sources of pollution across a huge catchment area of the Rivers Parrett and Brue."

"Five years of concerted effort by members of the group have brought Burnham much closer to passing the stricter standards. The group will continue its efforts to tackle the problems across the catchment area. This includes a multi-million pound investment by Wessex Water to help improve the bathing water quality."

"There will be signs advising people not to swim in the sea during 2016, but the beach at Burnham-on-Sea will continue to have all its usual amenities for people to enjoy." first reported earlier this week that a new coastal community officer is to be appointed to help Burnham improve its sea water quality alongside other projects.

Meanwhile, earlier this year the Environment Agency installed a sea quality warning sign on Burnham jetty to display the latest water standards to act as guidance to sea users.

And Wessex Water has a project of major work underway at Highbridge's water treatment plant to improve local sea water quality.

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