UK watchdog urges EU Parliament to reject 'bathing water' measure

WaterVoice is urging European Parliament ministers to reject a move which could see one in four of the UK's bathing waters re-classified as "poor" under tighter bathing water standards. The standards, being pursued by the EU Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety would revise the Bathing Water Directive -- to be discussed next week -- deleting the "sufficient" classification for bathing water quality from a set of new rules to cover all designated bathing areas in Europe...

LONDON, May 6, 2005 (GNN) -- WaterVoice is urging members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to reject a move which could see one in four of the UK's bathing waters re-classified as "poor" under tighter bathing water standards being pursued by a Parliament committee, according to a news release from the watchdog agency issued by the Government News Network.

WaterVoice warned that customers could end up paying "too much for too little benefit" to meet the requirements of new standards, while coastal towns could face 'stigma for years to come' as a result of the proposed change.

Decisions by the European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety on revising the Bathing Water Directive -- to be discussed next week in a full session of the European Parliament -- include deleting the 'sufficient' classification for bathing water quality from a set of new standards to cover all designated bathing areas in Europe.

In 2004, only 13 (2.3%) of the UK's 567 bathing waters failed the current mandatory standards. Under the tighter 'sufficient' classification supported by the Environment Council of the EU, this would have increased to 65 failures. However, deleting the 'sufficient' classification would see the failure rate increase to 151 bathing waters - equal to a quarter of all UK bathing waters being classified as 'poor'.

Sheila Reiter, Chairman of WaterVoice's European Group, said: "We cannot support the deletion of a 'sufficient' category of bathing water. It provides a stepping stone towards achieving 'good' bathing water status, and avoids the serious consequences of a 'poor' classification for communities reliant on tourism.

"We are also concerned about the need for rigorous cost-benefit analysis on the new standards. The revised directive will bring benefits to water customers as users of bathing waters but will also require the same water customers to meet some of the costs of implementing it. Therefore it is essential that an appropriate balance be struck between costs and benefits in delivering the new requirements."

She added: "Reclassifying bathing waters as poor could lead to temporary closure until the bathing area achieved a 'good' classification following investment by the water industry or local authorities, or changes to local land management practices. This investment might take years to achieve.

"Even if bathing waters remain open, their poor classification could deter visitors, and the stigma attached to those bathing waters would remain for many years to come."

In a separate set of revisions to the directive, WaterVoice has supported the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee's view that member states should adopt approved international symbols, to be displayed prominently at bathing sites, advising users of current bathing water quality.

WaterVoice (www.watervoice.org.uk) provides a strong and independent voice for all customers of water and sewerage companies in England and Wales. It operates through nine regional committees in England and a committee for Wales. They represent the interests of customers in respect of price, service and value for money; they also investigate complaints from customers about their water company. Ten WaterVoice committee chairmen form the WaterVoice Council, which along with subcommittees, deal with issues at national and European levels. WaterVoice Central is the statutory Ofwat Central Customer Service Committee, established under the 1991 Water Industry Act.

In related news, see: "UK watchdog considers plans to tackle local sewer flooding problems".

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