Clean Beach Proposals Oct03


New EU rules on bathing water, supported by the European Parliament today, could remove the coveted "blue flag" from many of Britain's beaches.


The European Parliament in Strasbourg this week has voted for stricter rules on bathing water quality, which should make it easier for the public to see whether the sea (or lake) is fit for swimming.


Speaking from Strasbourg after the vote ,commented:


"Currently there is a voluntary blue flag system intended to show that the water quality the previous year was fine, that the beach is swept regularly and that toilet facilities are nearby . This will in future be supplemented by a much more user-friendly "Smiley" sign, simply showing that the water is excellent, good or bad for bathing; it will refer to the present water quality instead of the past and it will be compulsory and universal. With standardised testing across the EU this should be good news for holidaymakers everywhere".


Water sports enthusiasts including canoeists and windsurfers believe that they could be banned from inland waters because land owners and public authorities will now have to meet standards designed for swimming and not sporting activities.


MEPs have missed an opportunity to bring old legislation up to date, simplify it and make it more flexible and improve information to the public about the quality of bathing waters across Europe.  Instead, they have imposed rules for no discernible health reason and threatened blue flag status on many British beaches."



        The European Commission has proposed a new Bathing Water Directive to replace the 1976 Bathing Water Directive which introduced binding water quality standards for bathing waters.

        The Commission proposals include higher water quality standards, but on two rather than nineteen tests, affecting public health (gastro-enteritis and e-coli), a more integrated quality management approach and harmonised methods for handling water samples.

        The Blue Flag scheme uses the European legislation in its criteria for awarding flags and the UK Marine Conservation Society uses the standards in compiling the Good Beach Guide.



The British Conservatives welcome this chance to simplify and update the legislation, to make it flexible and to improve information to the public about the quality of bathing waters across Europe.  However, the Socialists, Liberals and Greens have passed amendments which would impose rules for no discernible health benefit and increase costs to agriculture and water consumers.


Recreational activities

The Bathing Water Directive should be focused on those waters used for bathing, and yet amendments passed by the Socialists, Liberals and Greens extend the scope of the directive to include some waters used for other recreational activities like surfing, wind-surfing and kayaking.  These tend to be undertaken further away from the shore over an extended period; to include all these new waters as bathing water sites would significantly increase the extent of monitoring and management obligations at massive extra expense.  The British Canoe Union are concerned that if inland waters are designated as bathing waters, landowners might prefer to deny access altogether rather than meet the requirements of the legislation.


Microbiological Parameters

The Conservatives supported the existing thresholds for "good" and "excellent" water status (there is no evidence to suggest that these fail to provide adequate health protection for bathers), but Labour MEPs did not support these amendments.  The new higher levels will result in compliance with the Bathing Water Directive falling significantly: Up to 200 of over 800 monitored UK beaches could be deemed non-compliant (currently about 50 designated beaches fail).


Confusing additional chemical tests

Amendments passed by the Socialists, Liberals and Greens add new criteria relating to the chemical composition of water - standards which will relate to aquatic life and not have a direct bearing on public health.  These will add extra monitoring costs and could confuse the public looking for reassurance about the health safety of water.



A Conservative amendment passed proposes a proper cost benefit analysis to be undertaken by the Commission.  The UK estimates that the costs of compliance could range from 6.3b to 8.8b over 25 years before the massive additional costs from extending the scope to recreational waters.