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Summit on Scarborough South Bay Bathing Water Quality

Monday, 10 June 2024 06:00

By Stuart Minting, Local Democracy Reporter and Matthew Pells

A Bathing Quality Water Summit has been held in Scarborough to drive forward efforts to improve the water quality in the South Bay.

Councillors met with Yorkshire Water, The Environment Agency and other partners last week.

Chair of North Yorkshire Council's, Scarborough and Whitby Area Committee - Councillor Liz Colling - says there will be extensive testing over the summer to try and identify the cause of the problem

Large-scale investments to help tackle polluted bathing waters in Scarborough have been welcomed, but campaigners and politicians have warned there will be “no quick fix” to the issue blighting the resort.

The summit heard Yorkshire Water chief executive Nicola Shaw announce millions of pounds was being prioritised to improve water quality and infrastructure such as storm overflows in the area.

The utility boss also revealed plans to offer many Scarborough residents free water butts and details of a proposal to install a storage tank in the Wheatcroft area, of between 800 million to two billion litres, both to lessen pressure on the drainage system during intense rainfall and avert sewage spills.

In addition, the summit heard McCain frozen foods had invested £25m on a new water treatment plant to clean up discharges at its Scarborough factory, and had contributed to researching the causes of the polluted water, along with the Environment Agency, the council and Yorkshire Water.

Last year the North Bay received a coveted Blue Flag award from Keep Britain Tidy signifying that the beach was “clean, safe and meets the highest environmental standards, as well as international bathing water quality standards”.

However, in December it was confirmed Scarborough’s South Bay had retained its ‘poor’ classification as well as the Environment Agency’s advice against bathing at the beach.

The summit at Scarborough Town Hall saw a presentation by Professor Darren Grocke, of Durham University, about the sampling and analysis he is undertaking, including testing of seaweed samples across the area, to determine the location of pollution hotspots.

The research also aims to differentiate types of bacteria to determine whether the pollution is being caused by sewage, seabirds or livestock and to identify what mitigation measures can be put in place.

Delegates heard the Environment Agency was also carrying out testing in the area, to see if unidentified causes of pollution remain.

Chair of North Yorkshire Council's local area committee - Councillor Liz Colling - says they will be able to analyse the test results later in the year.

One delegate said while McCain had “covered themselves in glory” by completing all the tasks set out in the action plan, Yorkshire Water appeared determined to get to grips with the issue, prioritising it over other pressing matters.

The council’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, said although the authority did not have organisational responsibility for improving water quality, it was using its convening powers to tackle the issue due to its impact on tourism.

He said:

“It was a very useful meeting. We have clearly made some progress on activities.

“We know that there’s a problem and there’s no one cause to the pollution, but by working together I’m sure we’ll be able to address the issues. It will take time, there’s going to be no quick fix.

“We do not accept the South Bay or any part of the coast should be subject to pollution that means that people can’t swim safely.”

A spokesperson for Yorkshire Water said it had begun investing more than £2m at its Wheatcroft overflow, which modelling had indicated impacted the South Bay. When completed, the utility firm said, the work would reduce discharges to two per bathing water season.

He added:

“We are planning a water butt project in the town later this year to slow the flow of rainfall into the sewer network, funding further analysis at Scarborough South Bay and have plans to invest in six other storm overflows on the coast by April 2025.”

Scarborough councillor Rich Maw, who attended the summit, said the council’s summit and resulting action plan had led to “the beginning of being able to work out what is causing this problem” in South Bay.

He said:

“Overall decent progress is being made with the action plans, working with partners, who are talking to each other, which can only happen in a summit environment.”

Coun Maw said it was mystifying that Surfers Against Sewage, which had initially highlighted the issue, had not been invited to the summit.

Steve Crawford, of Surfers Against Sewage, said Yorkshire Water had spent £50m installing similar solutions in Scarborough 12 years ago and promised the best bathing water in Europe, but the storm overflows currently being used were ones the previous investment was supposed to solve.

Mr Crawford, who has not been able to open his South Bay surf shop for a year due to the pollution, is among numerous traders in the area whose businesses have been heavily impacted by the issue.

He said:

“I really applaud the investment, but their results from previous investments has not been very good.

“All this stuff that’s going to happen in the future is fantastic, at one point hopefully it will get resolved, but no one is taking responsibility for the problems we have at the moment.

“I’m in proper dire straits as I haven’t had an income for a year and zero help. We have at least two more years of problems in Scarborough, even with the best case scenario.”

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