Defra have updated their guidance on how to apply for Bathing Status.
After multiple FOIs to DEFRA and legal challenge, finally we have an answer to the question ‘what constitutes a large number of bathers’ – it is 100. It is unclear why this is the threshold criteria. The new guidance has also clarified who needs to be counted for the application. Whilst this makes the threshold for bathing designation clearer, it fails to address the real issue – which is why does the public have to apply in the first place?
Defra told the ilkley Clean River Group and Yorkshire Water in 2021 that new guidance would be provided in 2022 in time for last years applications. it has taken 2 years from Ilkley being awarded the first designated bathing site, and bringing a range of issues to Defra about the inadequacy of the application process for Rivers, to this new guidance, which comes half way through many campaign groups application process.
The new guidance fails to address many of the issues that as the first Bathing designated river, we have been raising with Defra for the past 2 years:
1. The Application Process is a waste of public effort. We do not understand why the public are being required to apply for Bathing Designation. Local Authorities know where there are high users of rivers, and often provide facilities to reflect that. It would be a better use of everyone’s time if Defra worked with LAs to identify where there are large numbers of people using rivers currently and designate those. This arbitrary 100 number is a ridiculous bureaucratic process, tying up Defra, the SoS (ridiculous waste of SoS time) and public time, when it is actually already known where people use rivers. It is unclear why you need consultation to put in water testing.
2. Defra are not clear on The Purpose of the designation . The legislation for designation is to secure testing and signage. This in turn triggers investment to clean up the river. The multiple requirements of the application appear to relate to the local stakeholders views on people using the river. That’s is not the point of designation. Again this is a huge level of bureaucracy that is unnecessary, particularly as Defra then undertakes another consultation nationally on the application. A
3. Rivers require a different approach: The designation secures water testing by the Environment Agency at one point of the river. Whilst this works for sea-sides where water quality doesn’t change along the beach, it doesn’t work for rivers which are a flowing water course with changing water quality. There must be multiple testing points that reflect the water course of the river.
4. Water Company Disclosure: The water company should disclose all of its assets on the water course that impact the designated bathing status area. The Environment Agency testing points should relate to these assets and the risk to public health (which is the point of designation). Signage should then relate to the testing points and not be ‘one size fits all’ for the whole of the designated site. At Ilkley the water quality changes along the 1 mile stretch, but we only have signs for the first half mile above the testing point.
2. Designation Purpose
Somehow this is now confused with encouraging bathing. The criteria for numbers of bathers is to demonstrate a site where people are using the river and therefore need to be informed about the water quality. Any additional requirements for instance consultation does not make sense against those criteria. What is it the public and agencies are being consulted about? The purpose of designation is to provide public information to support public health.
At Ilkley the designation did not increase the number of people using the river, but it has provided us with water quality information so that the public using the river is informed, and has secured investment to clean up the river.
3. Designation for a stretch of River:
The designation needs to address the needs for multiple testing along the stretch of the river. Our application was for a 1 mile stretch, which included a sewage treatment works half way down. The testing point is upstream of the STW, and therefore only measures the first half of the designation. Applications for rivers need to identify the stretch, and Water Companies should be required to provide a map of their assets along that stretch so that water testing can be carried out to reflect likely points of pollution. it should be clear that designation is for the applied for stretch of river, not for a single point within the application
Here in Ilkley we spent 2 years in dispute with the EA about the testing point. Our testing point is half way along our applied for BS stretch and this is what remains publicly available. Signage is only provided for the upstream section of our Bathing Site because of the legislation and EA decision. This also prevented us from applying for funding to clean up the river downstream through the AMP. We now have an informal agreement that the BS stretch was awarded enabling Yorkshire Water to apply for the Ofwat Accelerator to clean up the downstream stretch. We remain without signage in the downstream stretch and without publicly identified BS testing for the downstream section
Ilkley was the first river to secure Bathing Status in 2021.
Bathing Status designation secures regular water quality testing and public information through signage.
The river is designated Poor.
The designation has triggered investment by Yorkshire Water in infrastructure to clean up the designated area. Further investment is going through the Ofwat Accellerator programme to clean up the whole stretch of the river bringing Storm Overflows down to circa 10 a year (currently the SO and CSOs are discharging sewage into the river for 1/3rd of the year)
The designation is for waters where there are a lot of people using the water. It is not an indication of a safe place to bathe, or to encourage bathing.
Previously bathing applications had to demonstrate a ‘large number’ of users, the interpretation of ‘large’ being at the discretion of the secretary of state.