Agenda item

Environment Agency - Bathing Water Quality update


Considered – A presentation by Claire Barrow, North Yorkshire Area Environment Manager, and Claire Campbell, Yorkshire Bathing Water Technical Lead at the Environment Agency (EA) providing an update on bathing water quality on the North Yorkshire coast.


Members were advised about the statutory framework in which the EA operated and the detailed investigations undertaken at Scarborough South Bay in 2016.  In accordance with the Bathing Water Regulations 2013, the EA regularly tested during the bathing water season for two types of bacteria: E.coli and Intestinal Enterococci (not for antibiotic resistant bacteria).  At Scarborough South Bay, one sample a week was taken at different times and different days of the week, and the results published based on a four year rolling average.  The classification was currently poor.  The EA also undertook daily pollution risk forecasts due to weather and other predictable factors since heavy downpours may cause more bacteria to be washed into the sea.  The EA no longer provided pollution risk forecasts at Scarborough South; this stopped for 2022 as the model was very poor at predicting water quality issues at the site, which underlays the complexity of the issue.  However, it did provide this service at Filey, Sandsend and Robin Hoods Bay on the North Yorkshire coast. The 2016 study found that the picture at Scarborough South Bay was complex with multiple sources of bacteria, including seabirds and humans, contributing to the poor water quality, but did not add much to EA’s knowledge about the South Bay.   Evidence of industrial effluent was only found 10-20% of the time and was difficult to quantify using the analysis techniques available, and pollution from livestock and donkeys was not an issue.  The EA would undertake further detailed investigations of Scarborough South Bay in 2024, subject to availability of funding.  This year these investigations were focused on Bridlington South Bay and the River Wharfe.  Details were also provided of the EA’s regulatory work in which water discharge activities and source groundwater activities were regulated with an environmental permit.  A generic approach was adapted to the specific discharge, its location and receptors.  The EA had a regulatory responsibility to assess compliance against the conditions in permits and to take appropriate enforcement action where they were breached.  This action depended on the impact of the breach and any mitigation measures taken by the operator, in accordance with the EA Enforcement and Sanctions Policy.  The overall bathing water quality in the region was improving with significant additional resources put into agricultural inspections and the EA now requiring water companies to monitor their storm overflows to capture information on how they were performing.  The EA now published water companies’ annual data on storm overflow spills on a yearly basis to hold the companies to account.  These and other steps had significantly driven up monitoring and transparency from water companies in recent years.


Members then commented on the presentation and asked questions to which the EA provided replies.  Below are the salient points:


·       Profound concern at the poor bathing water quality of Scarborough South Bay and its effect on the reputation of the country’s first seaside resort and the local visitor economy.  The need for immediate action

·       The suggestion of a connection between the effluent discharged from the Wheatcroft Long Sea Outfall and the poor bathing water quality in Scarborough South Bay.  The acknowledgement that other sea outfalls in the area may also have an adverse effect on bathing water quality.

·       The Wheatcroft Outfall has an application in the process and if approved, it would meet the standards as described.

·       The impact of the seabird population would be investigated along with the popularity of the beach/human impact in the study next year.  Further factors requiring investigation were the impact of harbour structures and nearby coastal defence works.  The EA should be consulted on any proposed coastal defence projects.

·       Although pollution from agricultural sources was not an issue in the 2016 study, this could not be ruled out altogether in respect of Scarborough South Bay, and was certainly significant in other locations and led to the de-designation of Staithes as a bathing beach

Whilst the answers to the public questions were covered in the presentation, Steve Crawford put a supplementary question querying why the planned investigation of Scarborough South Bay could not be brought forward to this year.  In reply, it was confirmed that the EA’s resources and priorities determined the scheduling of the investigation.


Members agreed to adjourn the meeting to refine the wording of a motion originally proposed by Councillor Rich Maw which would then command the support of the committee.  Upon the meeting’s resumption, it was:




(i)             That the presentation be noted; and

(ii)            That this Area Constituency Committee commits to communicate our deep concern at the current situation regarding poor water quality in South Bay to all relevant agencies with a focus on accurately measuring the effluent from all sea outfall pipes at their source area across both North and South Bays. In addition, to request a formal response on how the coastal defence works have affected the currents in the Scarborough area.