Headlines: November 13th, 2007

Consultations have begun on proposals to improve the quality of bathing water in England and Wales. A revised directive has been published by Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government, which want views on the plans. The consultation will last until early February.

The revised directive has been drawn up to deliver environmental and public health benefits, setting a more stringent microbiological water quality standards for popular bathing areas. It will also require local authorities and other operators to provide improved public information about sites, including advice against bathing where the minimum standard is not met. It will introduce new quality classifications, excellent, good, sufficient and poor. With limited exceptions all European bathing waters must reach at least the sufficient standard by 2015.

Environment Minister Phil Woolas, who launched the consultation, said England had achieved its highest ever bathing water quality results in 2006 but he added, “The tighter standards under the revised directive mean we have got to be even more ambitious, and there will be significant benefits for all of us in delivering these improvements. I would encourage everyone with a role in water quality or an interest in the bathing water around our coasts to get involved and make their views known.”

Defra and the assembly Government have identified three scenarios for implementing the directive – all bathing waters reaching at least sufficient status by 2015; meeting the minimum requirements, but with the use of a ‘prediction and discounting’ system, providing additional protection to bathers by requiring local authorities and operators of private sites to provide advice against bathing where appropriate; going beyond the minimum requirements, which could increase the number of Blue Flag beaches, seen as a valuable tourist attraction.

The consultation includes an impact assessment of costs and benefits of the scenarios. This shows that fewer than ten per cent of bathing waters need improvement to meet the new standards.