‘Christmas stink’: UK’s traditional festive swims face rising tide of sewage – The Guardian

Lib Dem analysis finds 4,574 hours of sewage has been spilled in festive swimming spots in the last year
Long-established Christmas seaside swimming locations have been flooded with sewage over the last year, prompting concern that swimmers could fall ill.
They would not be able to claim compensation, as Tory MPs earlier this month blocked a Lib Dem amendment that would have allowed anyone who got sick as a result of illegal sewage dumping to claim from water companies.
During the festive season, swimmers traditionally wear cheery fancy dress as they plunge into the sea at beaches from Eastbourne, Sussex, to St Ives, Cornwall.
Statistics analysed by the Lib Dems have found that this year, festive swimmers will be using beachfronts where 4,574 hours of sewage has been spilled. Between the 32 event locations analysed by the party, almost 1,000 sewage spills were found to have occurred this year.
The former party leader Tim Farron said there needed to be a ban on sewage dumping in swimming areas.
In Sale, Greater Manchester, swimmers attending a Boxing Day charity event will be exposed to waters that have had 94 sewage discharges nearby. On the same day, an event in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, will expose swimmers to waters in which there have been 67 sewage discharges lasting a total of 405 hours over the last year.
A New Year’s Day swim location in Saunderfoot, Wales, has had 1,244 hours worth of sewage pumped into nearby waters this year.
At Brighton, which holds a festive swimming event, Southern Water fails to even monitor sewage, leaving revellers oblivious to the water quality.
Two years ago, outdoor swimmers in Oxfordshire were forced to cancel their Boxing Day swim after Thames Water announced a sewage dump on Christmas Day.
Farron, now the Lib Dem’s environment spokesperson, criticised the “Christmas stink” left by Conservative ministers. He expressed fears swimmers who could be made ill by the sewage, with no compensation from water companies after Conservatives blocked a proposed new law in parliament earlier this month.
MPs rejected the amendment, tabled by Farron, to the victims and prisoners bill by 267 to 27, a majority of 240, with the Lib Dem MP calling the result an “absolute disgrace”. He said Conservative MPs had “yet again voted to let water companies off the hook.
“This is a real Christmas stink for so many hoping to enjoy their traditional festive swim. The freezing cold water should be the only thing swimmers worry about, not sewage floating by them,” Farron said.
“It’s disgusting that our coastlines and lakes have been polluted by this foul habit. There needs to be a ban on sewage discharges in swimming areas. When will Conservative ministers finally clamp down on profiteering water firms who are destroying our environment?
“It was shocking to see Conservative MPs block plans to compensate swimmers made sick by sewage. Not only are they letting them pump sewage into waterways, but they are also content for swimmers to get sick.”
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A report from the marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage found 1,924 cases of people getting sick because of suspected sewage pollution over the last year, nearly triple the number of cases reported in the previous year.
The shadow environment secretary, Steve Reed, accused the government of turning a “blind eye to corruption and cover-ups” in the water industry.
He was referencing a BBC Panorama report that examined sewage releases into waterways by companies deemed to have good environmental ratings. It found United Utilities, a water company in the north-west of England, wrongfully downgraded 60 incidents to the lowest possible category, meaning they officially caused no environmental harm.
The environment secretary, Steve Barclay, insisted the government was taking a tougher approach to monitoring and penalties, and said spills from storm overflows were worse in Labour-led Wales.
A spokesperson for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “This year 96% of our bathing waters met minimum standards with 90% now ranked as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ – up from just 28% in the 1990s.
“Our Plan for Water is delivering more investment, stronger regulation, and tougher enforcement to clean up our waterways and bathing waters, including £1.7bn of this being used to tackle storm overflows to cut over 10,000 discharges by 2025.”