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The Great Fylde Bathing Water Con

The Great Fylde Coast Bathing Water ConA 'con' is something that can be either a confidence trick - something that dupes us into believing a situation is not what it really is, or it can be something that's bad (i.e. the opposite of the 'pro ' in 'pros and cons').

We're having a con played on us that is both.

It's said that if you tell a lie that's big enough, people will believe it.

That's certainly true.

We're currently being conned by an alliance of business, and government, and its agencies.

We're being conned about the quality of the bathing water on the Fylde coast.

In what we regard as probably the most significant article that counterbalance has ever published, we now show how our area has been subjected to extensive disregarding and discounting of water testing samples to enable the announcement of 'publicly acceptable' results - most of which we regard as pure fantasy.

The justifications given for these practices are about as honourable as the justifications given in the MP's expenses scandal - i.e. because the rules allowed it to happen, those in charge thought it was OK to fiddle the results.

It wasn't then,  and it isn't now.

The text of this article sets out the story and the background in readable form, but we have also reverse engineered the official sample results to show what the classifications would have been without the disregarding and discounting that has taken place. Follow this link if you want to go straight to the figures for each bathing water as a pdf file.

Throughout the whole of England, more than 96% of bathing waters managed to get their water quality right - and to get it right in time for the first of the rolling four-year-test-results period of the Revised Bathing Water Directive which has just completed.  And they did so without disregarding any years of sampling.

Only 3.7% of English bathing waters disregarded one or more full year's worth of test results.

33.3% of the bathing waters that had test results disregarded are bathing waters on the Fylde coast

Another 33.3% of them are elsewhere in the United Utilities North West region.

United Utilities (UU) is at the bottom of the heap in the Great Bathing Water Con. They have invested heavily in measures to improve bathing waters on the Fylde coast, and undoubtedly the bathing water is improving, but even the large sums they have invested are nowhere near enough to prevent raw sewage being pumped into the sea in this part of the world.

Next up comes the Environment Agency (EA) - the body that people expect, (but which is abjectly failing in that expectation), to regulate and require United Utilities to undertake the work necessary to stop raw sewage being pumped out into the sea.

Next along the chain of con artists come the Fylde coast's local authorities, Fylde, Blackpool and Wyre, all of whom who have failed to apply enough pressure to both the EA and UU to make them do more.

Finally comes the Government - via its agency The Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who are willing conspirators in the con.

Indeed without their agreement, it could not be played on us at all.

Part of the blame for this sorry state of affairs lies with the Government.

Before the EU's Revised Bating Waters Directive (rBWD) was about to come into force they considered three alternative scenarios:

  • Scenario 1A aimed to meet the minimum requirements of the rBWD
  • Scenario 1B aimed to meet the minimum requirements of the rBWD but included the use of of prediction and discounting at a small number of bathing waters
  • Scenario 2 explored the costs and benefits of going beyond the minimum requirements of the rBWD.

They concluded that England and Wales should only aim to do the minimum that the rBWD requires (with the use of a prediction system where appropriate) prior to the first bathing water classifications being made at the end of the 2015 bathing season.

They decided to do the minimum they could get away with.

Fylde Coast bathing Water Map

The result of this has been extensive disregarding and discounting of test results which have produced the following results

  • Fleetwood. Classed as 'Excellent' by disregarding 3 of the 4 years of test results and discounting several samples within that one year's worth of test results
  • Cleveleys. Classed as 'Poor' (which means failure). This is an honest result.
  • Bispham. Classed as 'Satisfactory' which is a mostly honest result.
  • Blackpool North. Classed as 'Good' by disregarding 3 of the 4 years of test results and counting only one years worth.
  • Blackpool Central. Classed as 'Sufficient' - another honest result.
  • Blackpool South. Classed as 'Excellent' by disregarding 2 years worth of test results.
  • St Annes North. Classed as 'Excellent' by disregarding 2 years of test results and then discounting individual samples within the years that were counted.
  • St Annes. Classed as 'Good' by disregarding 2 years of test results and then discounting individual samples within the years that were counted.

The *real* results if all the samples had been counted would be:

  • Fleetwood: Poor / Fail
  • Cleveleys: Poor / Fail
  • Bispham: Sufficient
  • Blackpool North: Poor / Fail
  • Blackpool Central: Sufficient
  • Blackpool South: Sufficient
  • St Annes North: Poor / Fail
  • St Annes: Poor / Fail

In this article we expose how these test results have been manipulated - often retrospectively after the test results were known - to ensure that the Government met it's target of having almost all the bathing waters meet the (minimum) 'Sufficient' standard. (Except they haven't, it's just the results that have).

We also explain why this situation is potentially so bad for public health.

Readers will know we've been banging on about this matter for years. Most often we've seemed like a lone voice in the wilderness, because when it became clear (at the 'Turning Tides' conference in September 2012) that there was no prospect of the Fylde coast bathing waters meeting the requirements of the legislation in the time available, a huge publicity machine went into overdrive to divert public attention from the real truth - which is that raw human excrement is still being pumped out into our bathing waters.

As we said at the time, even we didn't register the doublespeak that was going on at that conference. We now see that it wasn't about turning the tide to clean our bathing waters of sewage, it was about turning the tide of public opinion to make us think everything possible was being done - when it isn't.

What is being done (following the direction set by Government) is the bare minimum. And in some cases, as we will show, the figures are having to be fiddled even to get as far as the bare minimum.

As a result of that Turning Tides conference, all manner of tactics were (and still are) being deployed to divert people's focus from the real sewage problem. These include:

  • organising and promoting beach litter picks and beach 'clean ups' - as though this could pick the microscopic bacteria out of the water.
  • They included blaming cows and sheep for defecating on estuarial farmland - as though other estuaries in the UK (who have already met the water quality standards without fiddling their figures) don't also have cows and sheep on estuarial farmland.
  • They included blaming dogs who defecate on Fylde coast beaches - as though other beaches in the UK (who meet the water quality standards without fiddling the figures) don't also have dogs on them.

The real problem is that there are still not enough sewage treatment works in this area. And, (because we have allowed masses of additional housing to be built without enough new treatment works being built), there are still not enough large underground storage tanks to temporarily store the surcharge that comes in periods of heavy rain.

The result is that when the existing tanks are full, and the treatment works cannot cope with the volume, United Utilities has a stark choice. They either let the pumping stations overflow (or in some cases let the sewage back up and flood peoples houses), or they "open the flood gates" and let the untreated sewage discharge straight into the bathing waters.

We also believe that - even when the latest round of their infrastructure delivery called 'Asset Management Programme 6' (AMP6) is completed in 2020 - there STILL won't be capacity enough to solve the problem of raw sewage being pumped into the sea. By UU's own admission they will still be discharging raw untreated sewage into the sea off the Fylde coast, albeit that they will be pumping it out a bit further from the land.

That might give some respite to humans if the sun is shining and the ultra violet rays kill off the bacteria before they return in sufficient quantity to affect the test results and our health.

But it will probably be less good news for the Dolphins that were recently filmed half a mile out from Blackpool, and lauded as a demonstration that our bathing waters are now "cleaner than ever before" by some councillors in Blackpool. Fortunately a more balanced view was taken when the Gazette reporter noted that "Spotting dolphins off the shore in Blackpool isn't unheard of. Pods tend to visit in June and July most years and stay for several days"

It remains to be seen whether the dolphins will continue to come now that the one kilometre (= half a mile) long 'giant outfall pipe' that's been installed off South Shore can pump raw sewage into the sea (just about where the dolphins were seen) as it acts as - what the Gazette described as - 'a relief valve for Blackpool's sewer network during periods of heavy rain."

Outfall pipe

(The picture shows the rig testing the ground before the pipeline was extended)

Pumping sewage further out to sea might help the test results, but its still as wrong as pumping it out nearer to shore.

The solution is that the waste we produce (especially because we choose to organise society on the principle of 'urban concentration') should be cleaned up by being properly treated before we release it into the environment.

This problem is not helped by the thousands of new houses that are planned to be built - each of which requires connecting to the sewage treatment system.

It's true that (unlike most of the older houses we see around us) these new properties will have waste water piping that separates out rainwater and sewage, and that will reduce the scale of the additional problem these new houses create for the future. But all the sewage from these houses still has to go into the same storage tanks and treatment works that are already overloaded and unable to cope, and the increased volume of sewage from new housing cannot do anything other than make the problem worse - even when the rainwater is separated out.

counterbalance has charted the progress of this bathing waters story over the last 3 years

May 2012 counterbalance - Sewage Sea Shore
Sep 2012 counterbalance - Turing Tides
May 2013 counterbalance - All Going Swimmingly?
May 2014 counterbalance - Bathing Waters Update
Jun 2014 counterbalance - Bathing Waters Set to Fail
Aug 2014 counterbalance - Testing the Water
Nov 2014 counterbalance - Fiddling Fylde's Figures

We've shown in previous articles that in 2014, both of the St Annes bathing waters (St Annes and St Annes North) were already beyond the point at which they could be classified as anything but 'Poor' (which meant they had failed), when the first four-year-rolling-average was published in November 2015. They could not possibly pass the required standard, and that, in turn, would mean signs being put up to advise people against bathing and even paddling in the sea on those beaches.

But in our last article, we also broke the news that showed how these figures were going to be fiddled.

We believe that was the first example of what was to become the Great Fylde Coast Bathing Water con.

The Bathing Water regulations require that, during the UK bathing season, testing for bacteria must be undertaken 20 times every year, and a rolling 4 year's worth of those samples determines whether or not the beaches meet the requirement.

When enough bad results have been found to exist, the Bathing Water cannot pass muster, no matter how good the remaining results might be.

But as we reported a year ago, instead of counting the 80 samples that had been taken over the four years (the results of which would have shown the bathing waters at St Annes failing as we predicted) only 40 of the 80 samples were going to be counted, And those 40 that they *did* count, would show that the bathing waters had passed - because the samples they are choosing to ignore are the same ones that would have made the beaches fail.

UU say the recent two years of good results are because of all the work they are doing.

We say they are good results because the two bathing seasons they have chosen to count have had less heavy rain, (like this summer) and the sewers have not overflowed as much, so not as much sewage has been pumped into the sea.

As soon as it became clear that these fiddled test results meant that St Annes Beaches would not require warning signs to be put up this year, the corporate publicity machines went into overdrive.

Fylde Council's (then) interim leader Councillor Sue Fazackerley, said: “This is excellent news from the perspective of both residents and tourists. Bathing quality is clearly higher than ever and that is great for our reputation with visitors. We look forward to another excellent summer in which visitors and residents can enjoy Fylde’s clean sea and beaches.”

This is classic Fylde doublespeak. It says the opposite of reality. Yes, the water is cleaner than it was previously, but the rest of it about being excellent news for visitors and residents, is baloney.

The only thing that had happened was that the Government and the Environment Agency and United Utilities had agreed to disregard half of the test results so that the St Annes beaches did not fail.

But now, that same disregarding trick has been used on most of the Fylde coast's beaches to varying degrees, and people are being conned into believing that the water is giving us, as Cllr Fazackerley put it, "...clean seas and beaches" when it isn't.

But it gets worse.

Not content with expanding this "disregard the bad years" trick to almost all the Fylde's bathing waters, the Government and others have also been complicit in developing another useful tool to hide the real truth about the quality of the bathing waters.

They're now also choosing to disregard some of the samples they take *within those years that they ARE counting* - if those samples would mean the beach failed for the year.

This process to discount individual samples can, and indeed have, made the full year results that were about to cause a beach to fail, become a 'pass' - or to otherwise move the existing classification to a higher grade.

We heard first hand evidence of this by none less than the Chairman of Fylde's 'Environment, Health and Housing Committee' (EHH) a week or two ago.

He now represents FBC on the Fylde Coast Peninsular Water Management Group, and part of his responsibilities as a representative of the council is to produce a report of the proceedings of the meetings he attends.

He attended a meeting in October and in his own hand, he completed a reporting pro-forma. Readers can follow this link to see his report. It notes that '....St Annes beaches are clear due to the new foul water / flood system in Preston Docklands....' (We'll say more about this later).

He went on to say "Hopefully, Blackpool North (failed) will improve."

His report was published as part of the agenda before what has turned out to be the most recent fiddling of the figures that changed Blackpool North's 'fail' result into a 'pass.'

Cllr Aitken was clearly surprised and embarrassed to learn (from a Gazette report we understand) that Blackpool North had passed, because only a few days beforehand, and attached to the agenda for his EHH meeting was his report of the 'Water Group' meeting - which showed Blackpool North had failed.

He referred to this during the EHH meeting on 10th November 2015, saying to the Committee....

"I'm just asking the question - have you all read my report? My report in the [agenda] paper, did you read it? Can I just tell you this now, I attended, on your behalf, the Fylde Water Management Group, and I attended it in October, and blow me, my report is out of date already. And I asked questions. Andrew [an FBC Officer] is over there and he'll concur. I asked a question of Clare Nolan-Barnes [Head of Coastal and Environmental Partnership Investment at Blackpool Council], I asked the question to her - and to the group, and there was people from Blackpool there, I said, Blackpool North, it's failed, so what are the hoteliers going to say about that? And blow me, weeks later, it's changed. My report when I wrote it was up to date, but the report now states that Blackpool North is now 'good' and that there's only Cleveleys which has failed. Now I'll just tell you this now, to bring you up to date. There is a plan - and I had this when I was at the meeting - at Anchorsholme, there's going to be a three kilometre flood pipeline. In other words, when it floods, we are lucky enough to have the Preston storage area and Blackpool has got these massive underground tanks near the football stadium and this 3 km pipeline. And I understand that once that is built, it will alleviate the situation so that Cleveleys will probably get a 'good' report. But, the main important scenario is that St Annes North, and Blackpool South have now got 'Excellent' and are going to get Blue Flags."

Later in the debate - clearly stung by having delivered a report which we're sure he was honest about and which contained what he was told at the Peninsular Water Group Management Meeting but which was shown to be inaccurate a few weeks later - he added "I shouldn't say this but it's only a few weeks ago since I went to this meeting, and I did mention it in front of the Blackpool Portfolio Holder, that how on earth would the hoteliers manage, because that's where your top hotels are in Blackpool, Blackpool North, and blow me, isn't it amazing that they've passed. Absolutely. I'm flabbergasted. And don't I think I'm stupid for writing this report."

We don't think he was stupid at all. He told the truth about the result. But it has since been - some would probably say 'adjusted.'

We say it's been fiddled.

Unless Cllr Aitken is a complete idiot, and we know that's not the case, it was - unlike the bathing water - crystal clear that he had been told that Blackpool North would fail, but two weeks or so later, it had - miraculously - passed.

We wondered if a miracle of this scale might herald the second coming of the Messiah, so we were tempted into a quick look past St Annes Pier as we left the Town Hall - but we didn't see anyone walking on the water.

We were probably a bit foolish looking really, because the officer reporting to Cllr Aitken's committee had later gone on to explain as follows.....

"The Bathing Water Regulations, Mr Chairman, allow for various things mentioned in my report. The Short Term Pollution events where we put signs up on the beach warning people if there's any of those events, but there's also something known as 'Step Change' where, if you can demonstrate there's some significant piece of work been done to improve the bathing water quality, you can reduce the four year period for tests down to a shorter period.

Our results are based on 40 tests over two years, so likewise, at Fleetwood this year, because they've built this huge tank in your
[Cllr Mrs Chew's] ward, that's allowed a 'Step Change' for them, because that holding tank they've built at Singleton on Mains Lane, has allowed them to apply to the Government for the Step Change, so Fleetwood's result is 'Excellent' this year, but it's based on one year's results, and Blackpool have also, obviously, applied for Step Change on their beaches and been accepted by the Government and the regulations and they've managed to improve their results.

Now since I wrote the report, when it was forecast for both our
[St Annes] beaches to be 'Good' - and the standard is only having to reach 'Sufficient' - so we got 'Good' on both beaches, but because of our Short Term Pollution Events signs on the beaches, we've managed to get our results at St Annes North up to 'Excellent'

What the officer was saying here is that by disregarding half the samples (2 of the 4 years of test results) for both of the St Annes beaches, the classification results for them both went from 'Fail' past "Satisfactory' to 'Good' and then by discounting some of the samples within the two years that they did count, they managed to make St Annes North Beach go beyond 'Good' to become 'Excellent'

We say this is simply fiddling the figures to make it look better than it is. It's not fixing the problem.

The beaches have failed.

Cllr Maxine Chew (who has made something of a specialism of sewage since there were large sewage storage tanks built in her ward on the boundary of Fylde and Wyre at Skippool) brought a dose of sanity to the Committee when she said "... Before we all count chickens, the time that they took these tests, it's been a prolonged dry spell, and I'd like to ask the question have they let - you know, about 12 times a year - they have to pull the plug, even on the stormwater tanks, and they have to just let this sewage, and it's raw sewage, just out into the river which they do at Freckleton [Ribble] and which they do at Poulton at the Wyre because even the stormwater tanks can't take it when we have rain like we've had this last week. And I really want to know - did they pull the plug this week, and second question is, do we, as an authority take our own tests that we pay to have tested, because I bet if we tested it today, you probably wouldn't comply"

Unable to answer her questions, the Chairman responded "Can I just tell you that when Blackpool North was mentioned, because it came up as 'failed' when I was at this meeting, one of the things that was brought out was that it's failed because the testing area is underneath the North Pier where all the seagulls congregate, and if you changed the testing area, and take it away from the pier, there's a good chance that it will not have the same effect."

Despite his saying that seagulls under the pier were the cause, (and we don't for a minute believe that's what's causing the concentrations of coliform bacteria that are found in the water), they can not be, because the sampling point is actually just opposite the Tower if the map on the EA's website is to be believed.

But what Cllr Aitken said about this matter does help to illustrate the unfortunate logic prevailing in this matter - that the intent of the responsible authorities is to manipulate the testing and the results rather than to fix the problem.

Fylde's officer responded to Cllr Mrs Chew to say that the bathing season "is the first of May to the end of September which includes the sunny weather, and the tests are taken through that period. It's the Environment Agency's responsibility to take the tests and have them independently verified, and they take 20 tests through the season"

What he had avoided saying earlier, when he said they had applied to Government for 'Step Change' status and implemented 'Short Term Pollution Measures' was that those are the measures that allow the results to be manipulated.

We're more blunt.

The Bathing Water test results are being fiddled to look better than they actually are.

And the public is being duped by this process.

It's a con.

If you consider the criticism and the censure visited upon Volkswagen for fiddling its exhaust emission results, and perhaps even more explicitly, if you consider the censure visited upon Russia for being complicit in fiddling the doping test results that measured the presence of performance enhancing drugs in its athletes, and you compare that with the silence that surrounds the UK government - which is complicit in fiddling the test results that measure the presence of coliform bacteria in the bathing waters off the Fylde coast, that silence is deafening.

This issue of bathing waters is such an important matter that we're going to provide more technical information shortly, but just before we do that, we need to make two further points.

The first is about the impact of the polluted water on visitors and perhaps even more importantly, on residents.

The second is about the overall approach being adopted - which is almost exclusively concerned with not having the shame of having bathing waters that fail, when the real aim ought to be to improve public health.

The foolishness of this latter approach manifests itself explicitly when you realise that fiddling of the figures by removing some tests from the overall assessment can ONLY be intended to avoid test result failure.

It does nothing to improve the quality of the water.

The impacts on tourists and day visitors are fairly well known. First are the (fairly obvious) medical risks of entering water which contains the same sort of bacteria you find in human poo - especially if water is ingested, or gets in the eyes when bathing, or where there are cuts or broken skin in contact with live, colony forming bacteria in the water.

A less obvious, but equally significant issue is the presence of live bacteria deposited on the beaches as polluted water covers them twice a day.

This pollution of the beaches has all sorts of unintended impacts and consequences - for example, anyone picnicking on the beach could find themselves ingesting unexpected and unwanted life forms in addition to those that Dylan Thomas humorously described as "sand in the spongecake and sandflies in the watercress,"

There is also a significant issue about the perception of the cleanliness of the area, and thus the reputation of the resorts as visitor destinations.

Sadly, this is the matter that appears to dominate the thinking of local authorities and Government, (rather that the actual health of people affected by the polluted water).

There is evidence for this at the highest levels. A paper prepared by the Environment Agency's Executive Director of Environment and Business for the Board of the EA in May this year said "Bathing waters and the seaside economy are valuable economically, socially, and environmentally to this country. The economic value of seaside tourism across England is estimated to be at least £3.3bn. The quality of bathing waters makes a significant contribution towards this tourism offer and is key to the reputation of many seaside resorts."

He didn't go on to list or evaluate the social and environmental benefits.

But we think the most overlooked issue in this sorry matter regarding the public health is the risk to local residents, particularly in winter, outside of the bathing season, from airborne bacteria, when storms and water turbulence whip up waves and cause seawater droplets to become airborne.

And when there's no testing being done.

Coastal dwellers will be familiar with the deposits that are routinely seen during (and following) storms. The ones that take the gloss off shiny surfaces like windows and cars. They will also be familiar with the strong smell of ozone from the sea that accompanies bad weather.

Nearly all of these stormy events take place outside the bathing season when there is no measurement of water pollution, but by the water company's own admission, and confirmed by other information we have seen, there are far more frequent and voluminous discharges of raw sewage into the sea outside the bathing season than those that occur within it.

That's because it is exactly those heavy rain and storm conditions which are the prime cause of the stormwater overflows and the combined sewer overflows discharging into the sea - and it seems to have escaped most people's notice that those are exactly the same storms that whip up the sea (and the bacteria within the raw sewage in it), creating airborne particles - including bacteria - which cannot avoid being ingested as we breathe the moist air during such weather conditions.

So outside the bathing season, we argue that the risk to residents - in terms of frequency and scale, is probably greater than it is to visitors during the summer.

We're not trying to be alarmist here. We readily recognise that breathing in bacteria is a natural daily occurrence. And in fit, healthy people with high grade immune systems, the risk of something serious developing from even the coliform bacteria must be pretty low. But the old, and very young, and others with low immunity will be at greater risk.

There have been studies done on the matter of bathing water polluted with sewage, notably one called "Recreation in coastal waters: health risks associated with bathing in sea water" (Journal of Epidemiol Community Health 2001;55:442–447). This cited other evidence and found that "On the basis of the 1972-1978 Cabelli Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study in the United States of America, later developed by EPA into a recommended health-effects criterion for marine recreational waters, one would expect 25-40 gastrointestinal cases per 1,000 persons exposed to seawater containing 100 enterococci per 100 ml."

The current EU-based Classifications are:

From March 2015 Onward  
(Based on 'Colony forming units per 100 millilitres (cfu/100ml)')
Poor (Fail) Sufficient Good Excellent
E Coli:
more than 500 (1) 500 (2) 500 (1) less than 250 (1)
Intestinal enterococci
more than 185 (1) 185 (2) 200 (1) less than 100 (1)
(1) based on 95 percentile evaluation
(2) based on 90 percentile evaluation

What price the washing of hands after a visit to the loo when you can breath in what you're supposed to be washing off your hands.

We make the point in this article about health risks strongly, so as to emphasise the importance of looking at this problem from the perspective of public health, not chiefly from the perspective of the reputation of the resorts.

And we argue that conning people into believing 'all is well with the world' (like the town mayor in the film 'Jaws' who tried to suppress information about the presence of the shark off their beach), is a very unsatisfactory and dangerous stance to adopt if it results in the water company being let off the hook whilst it's activities put public health at risk.

There is another academic study that was published in the 'Journal of Applied Microbiology Symposium Supplement 1999, 85, 101 S-lO7S' by the Department of Biological Sciences, Institute of Environmental and Natural Sciences, Lancaster University and titled "Non-compliance of beaches with the EU directives of bathing water quality: evidence of non-point sources of pollution in Morecambe Bay" Its summary says

"Morecambe’s three EU designated bathing beaches frequently fail the EU directives, even after a state of the art sewage treatment plant has become operational. We have been using conventional microbiology to look at the seasonality and distribution of indicator and pathogenic bacteria in Morecambe Bay and using molecular methods (polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and pulse field gel electrophoresis (PFGE)) to investigate the pathways by which pathogens reach the bathing waters."

It's headline first finding was that "Failures and passes appear to be associated with the prevailing climatic conditions."

The conclusion of the report said "Whether or not a beach in Morecambe Bay passes or fails the EU Directive on Bathing Water Quality is dependent on:

  1. The presence and location of effluent treatment works.
  2. The input from non-point (non-sewage) sources.
  3. The weather.
  4. The season.
  5. The time of day."

errr, Quite.

It's mostly down to where the sewage reaches the sea, and the weather.

So how come the 'Unholy Alliance' of industry, regulator and Government can sidestep what most people would regard as sensible rules - and in doing so con the public?

How can the figures be fiddled without breaking the law?

The answer is that whilst what they are doing may not be outside the law, it involves a careful interpretation of the legislation in a way we don't think it was intended to be regarded.

Readers might recall our article 'Fiddling Fylde's Figures' where we said:

"In its (now archived) note, called 'Bathing waters and the Bathing Water Directive' the Government said "We will keep a watching brief on developments and costs in predictive tools to assess whether a system may be possible in the future, but in the medium term we will be unable to fund the Agency or external proposals for development of such a system. It is therefore very unlikely that the first classifications in 2015 will include discounting of samples."

And as soon as we looked out of the window, a veritable herd of pigs went flying past.

Because of their failure to enforce a regime that required the water companies to actually meet the more stringent requirements, the Government has now had to back-track on this assumption. And it has done so on a wholesale scale in this area.

It hasn't just discounted individual samples, it has discounted whole years of testing.

In the worst example we could find - at Fleetwood - it has recently discounted three years of results from the four years it tested. So the results giving a pass are only based on one year's worth of results!

But there are actually two sidesteps in play in this con trick that's being played on us. One of these is to discount what are called 'Short Term Pollution Events' by (retrospectively) discarding selected test results from the findings, and the more cardinal sidestep is to discount whole years of testing from the declared results.

We'll look at each of these in turn.

The legislation on water quality emanates from the EU and, (as we heard an able speaker from what used to be Government Office North West once say, and with which we - grudgingly - had to agree), it is arguably one of the few benefits that membership of the EU has brought to the UK.

The EU published a position statement on Bathing Waters (EEA Report No 1/2014) in 2013.

This defines 'short-term pollution' as being 'microbiological contamination that has clearly identifiable causes and is normally expected to affect bathing water quality for less than 72 hours after the first impact'.

It goes on to say that short-term pollution requires there to be procedures to predict *and deal with* the contamination. It then says that pollution from sewage and farmland should result in local authorities implementing remedial measures, and that the remedial measures are intended to reduce or eliminate causes of pollution *or prevent bather's exposure to polluted bathing water.*

And that last bit seems to be the 'get out of jail card'.

When it's very clear to us that the aim of the derogation is to allow time to remedy the CAUSES of the pollution, it should not be simply to prevent exposure by advising against going in the water.

The EU report says that "In the case of bathing waters with several years of poor quality, it is imperative that the sources of pollution be assessed.

That's their word - *imperative*

But it's not a word that's heavily underlined in the lexicon of the Environment Agency and United Utilities - as we shall see.

We think the sidestep being used in the UK is that, provided the pollution event of up to 3 days has had accompanying signage to advise against going in the water, and you don't discount more than 15% of the total number of samples, then you can discount the test results that might have caused you problems, and more especially, you can do so retrospectively with the benefit of hindsight, when you get to the end of the bathing season.

Yes, really!

We think this scheme was set up in 2014, when it was obvious that a lot of North West bathing waters were going to fail.

We believe that the Environment Agency now has a computer model to predict when heavy rainfall is likely to give rise to problems - and for those Local Authorities signed up to its scheme, it sends out a warning that a 'Short Term Pollution' event is likely to occur.

If, as a result of this, the local authority puts out information and signage to warn against bathing (for up to 3 days), and they can subsequently discount those samples at the end of the year and 'reclassify' the remaining samples to give a better result.

That's not, in our view, a process intended to allow time to remedy the cause.

Nor does it indicate any imperative to even assess the cause of the pollution.

It simple gets the company, the regulator and the Government off the hook.

The Environment Agency confirms this practice. In its the technical analysis of the bathing waters it defines what is discountable and what may be discounted. It says:

Discountable: "a valued attribute to indicate that a sample assessment is eligible to be discounted from annual Compliance Assessments. This attribute is updated throughout the season, and is required to show where a sample meets the criteria to be eligible for discounting. The absence of a value for this attribute indicates that a judgment on whether the sample is discountable is pending. This may occur several days after first publication of sample assessment result."

Discounted: A value attributed to a "discountable Sample Assessment which indicates that it has been discounted for use in annual Compliance Assessments. This attribute may be present on a discountable sample assessment. It reflects a decision made at the end of the season in which the sample was taken as to whether to actually discount a discountable sample assessment from annual Compliance Assessments.

And in the less technical notes it says:" DISCOUNTED SAMPLES: Samples collected during a short-term pollution (STP) event may be disregarded from classifications at the end of the monitoring season. At most 15% of samples may be disregarded in total."

We suspect this is how the Blackpool North changed its result from 'fail' to 'pass' AFTER the end of the bathing season and AFTER Cllr Aitken was told Blackpool North has failed.

Advice against bathingWe came across another probable use of this sidestep earlier this year on the Promenade at Fleetwood, where we saw a standard EU 'Don't bathe in the water' sign just near to the North Euston Hotel (see picture right).

At first, we thought Wyre had probably jumped the gun and had put it up this year when it was only due from next year.

But now we suspect it wasn't that at all. It might well have been part of a 3 day advice against bathing period - because they had been notified of a 'Short Term Pollution Event' which had occurred - and in order to be able to discount the effect of that pollution from the results, Wyre had been required to put up the signs for 3 days or whatever.

Doesn't seem like a good way of saying the water is safe when you can use a 'get out of jail card' by putting up signs whilst the pollution is there does it?

The south coast resort of Worthing has been a bit more open and upfront than the Fylde coast authorities in explaining how this all works. It says......

"A risk has been identified of Lancing Beach Green not achieving the guideline levels for stringent bathing water limits in 2015. In response to this, a Short Term Pollution (STP) scheme was established by the Environment Agency at the start of the 2014 bathing season.

Every day from May to September the Environment Agency forecast the pollution risk and warn when water quality is likely to be reduced at both Lancing and Worthing bathing waters. The public can then make timely and informed decisions on whether to swim or not.

Forecasts are based on the factors that are known to have an effect on water quality, such as heavy rainfall causing increased runoff from agriculture, urban areas or sewage sources."

Worthing is, at least, being open and honest, not secretive or duplicitous.

But we couldn't find that sort of explanation emanating from any of the Fylde coast authorities, (although you can find something like it if you delve deeply enough into the EA's website) - But it is what's been happening since the EA established it's 'Short Term Pollution' programme in 2014 to avoid its being held to account for its failure to stop raw sewage going into the sea.

Technically this scheme is a way of giving Government-backed authority for water companies like United Utilities to pollute our seas with impunity.

20 Beaches in the North West are now signed up to this 'Short term Pollution' scheme.

But the second sidestep is the bigger one.

We think it probably stems back to the Environment Agency's paragraph A.1.32 on page 70 of its "Environmental Permitting Guidance - Core Guidance For the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010"   which says:

"This Directive has been transposed via Bathing Waters Regulations 2008 and by the Bathing Waters (Classification) Regulations 1991 which established water quality objectives for designated bathing waters. The Environment Agency must ensure so far as is practicable by the exercise of its powers including its permitting powers under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010 that water quality objectives are achieved at all times."

We think it's a liberal interpretation of the words 'so far as is practicable' - and the inclusion of its stated intent to use its "Environmental Permitting" powers (which are what it uses to allow and authorise pollution to take place) that are at the heart of this particular con.

This con is called 'Step Change' and the technical explanation is that works of such significance have been undertaken that (some) past years’ monitoring results are no longer representative and should be removed from the evaluation of water quality.

Some would say that's not an unreasonable case to make.

And if it was provable to be the case, we probably wouldn't disagree. But it's not provable, and we think it's just being used as a cover to hoodwink the gullible.

If the 'Step Change' process is used to simply look for and find a plausible justification to discount the results for the whole year when you can't fix it by fiddling individual test results within that year - (for example if there are sewage pollution events for longer than 3 days or where there are more than 15% of discounted samples between May and September), we don't think that's quite what it was intended to address.

The stated justification for using Step Change varies from beach to beach, but broadly, the justifications cite the building of some big new piece of sewage infrastructure to show that things are so improved, that the old results should be disregarded because they won't ever be as bad as that again.

Undoubtedly, the infrastructure works undertaken as part of UU's AMP6 programme will improve water quality, and what they have done is a good job. But we remain convinced that what they have done will not be enough to solve the problem if - unlike this year - we have a summer with heavy rainfall.

And it certainly won't be enough to stop raw sewage being pumped out into the sea.

To provide a justification for the St Annes and St Annes North situations to be discounted for two whole years worth of results (that's half the total results), the reason given by UU and accepted the EA and by DEFRA was, as Cllr Aitken's report noted, the building of the large sewage storage tank in Preston at the junction of Riversway and Pedders Lane.

That's said to be responsible for stopping the sewage reaching St Annes and St Annes North bathing waters.

To fix the problem of the test results at Blackpool, a new discharge pipe 1kn long has been built to replace the former 0.5 km long pipe, and the stormwater and sewage mixture is now discharged from that. It is argued that, by the time the tide brings it back to shore from half a mile out, the pollution will have been so diluted, or been killed off by sunlight, or otherwise dissipated, that it will not be present in the sort of concentrations that will adversely affect the test results, so all is now fine, and the 'Step Change' provisions can be applied to discount previous years because the longer pipe has produced a 'step change' in the process of dealing with the sewage at south shore.

But as far as we're concerned, these two matters present us with a conundrum.

If increasing the pipe length from 0.5km to 1.0km at Blackpool means that the effect of sewage discharge is so diluted or dissipated that it won't now affect the beach at Blackpool, we wonder how it can ever justifiably have been argued that a change which took place in Preston - between 18 and 23 km away could ever mean that St Annes will no longer suffer bad results!

If sewage discharging into the water can be fixed with a 1km long outfall, how could it have ever be the case that the discharges in Preston could have affected St Annes beaches when it is roughly 18km from Pedders Lane to Fairhaven Lake sampling site, and about 23km to St Annes North sampling site?

We simply don't believe what we're being told here.

But of course it's not our view that's important, it's the view of the unholy trinity that matters, and they say it will have such an impact that St Annes can discount two years worth of results an change the overall results from fail to pass.

That's a very convenient situation for UU (who are failing to prevent enough of their discharges) and for the EA (who won't want to be seen to have failed to ensure that UU did enough work to prevent the sewage discharges), and for DEFRA (who are happy to be able to show that almost all the beaches in the UK now meet the minimum required standard).

The thing is, we don't believe they do. We think it's simply a con trick to make it look as though they are.

Readers will know that we have consistently maintained that the cause of bacterial pollution on the St Annes bathing water, and to a lesser extent St Annes North, is chiefly from the 'mushroom' at Fairhaven lake, shown here as  'ESO' on the official map.

Stormwater overflow off Fairhaven lake

This is an emergency sewage overflow facility for the Sewage Pumping station which itself nestles hidden from view in the trees, but lies immediately north of St Paul's Avenue car park at the top end of Fairhaven Lake.

Stormwater overflow 'mushroom' serwage outletWhen the Fairhaven pumping station can't cope with the volume of sewage arriving in it's inlet pipe, they open the valves, and raw sewage discharges into sea about 50m from the sea wall.

We (and Cllr Mrs Chew that we mentioned earlier) know this used to happen a dozen or so times a year when we had first hand experience of it back in the 1990s because we heard it from the horse's mouth at the time.

We also watched a bunch of water experts be very 'economical' (and that's a very polite term for what they did) with delivering that information to a FBC committee, where former Cllr the late Eileen Hall was probing them and trying to get proper answers from them about how often Fairhaven discharged an hour or so after we had heard the truth.

It was evident to us at that time that they did not want to admit in public what was actually happening at Fairhaven. We see no indication that approach has changed.

Sewage treatment works and the mushroom

The picture above shows the pumping station and the proximity of the 'mushroom'

We don't know how frequent it is now, but the Environment Agency's website says "The Fairhaven Car Park storm overflow [cb note: we think this one is to the Lytham side of Fairhaven lake] and Sandgate Pumping Station overflow are no longer in use. The flow has been diverted away from the bathing water by United Utilities. There are numerous storm, emergency and surface water outfalls that discharge to the River Ribble and its estuary. Sewer overflows operating during, and following, periods of heavy rain, can result in a fall in quality of bathing water at St Annes. Fairhaven Pumping Station, which discharges to the south of St Annes bathing water..."

The tidal drift at St Annes is from Lytham toward Blackpool. South(ish) to North(ish). You don't have to be a genius to work out that raw sewage pumped out of the Fairhaven mushroom is going to head straight toward Blackpool, but getting more diluted as it goes. So the St Annes Bathing water will be the worst affected and St Annes North will be affected a bit less.

That said, we did ask for some data back in October 2012. In our report 'Fiddling Fylde's Figures' we said:

"Figures we obtained from United Utilities via the Environment Agency showed that on 11 December 2011 at 11:20 (that was the most recent figure available at the time) a discharge of 35.5 hours took place from Fairhaven Wastewater Pumping Station.

And during that time, an unbelievable 1,355,000 cubic m was discharged.

That's almost 300 million gallons of raw sewage discharged into the sea.

We queried the figure with the Environment Agency (because we simply couldn't believe it).

At first they said it must be wrong and referred us to United Utilities who told us they had a record of one event on 7th December which was a 15.1 hour discharge of storm sewage resulting in a volume of 12,500 cubic metres. That's 2,749,615 gallons - which is much less, but even 2 million gallons is still a lot of sewage.

But then the person who had recorded the data on the Environment Agency system was consulted about the discrepancy, and he said the figures they had provided to us on a spreadsheet were exactly the figures that had been supplied to the Environment Agency by United Utilities, and he stood by them."

Either way, a 72 hour pollution event from Fairhaven IS likely to make a mess of the beaches in St Annes, isn't it?"

From personal background knowledge, and from information such as this, we have no hesitation in concluding that the problem with St Annes beaches lies not in Preston, but at Fairhaven.

It's also the reason why County Councillor Liz Oades - who like us, was around in the 1990s and understands what's really going on - made a proposition in recent a County Council meeting that real-time monitoring of the sewage discharges from Fairhaven should be recorded and published, so we could all see when and how much sewage was being pumped out there.

Very sensibly, Cllr Mrs Oades had persuaded LCC's Scrutiny Committee to ask the Environment Agency to undertake real-time monitoring of sewage discharge all along the Fylde Coast.

The EA's response to this request was presented to a LCC Scrutiny Committee meeting on Friday, 17th April, 2015 where they advised the Scrutiny Committee that they already provide full data on water quality across the Lancashire Coast.

They also said "The Environment Agency’s position on real time monitoring is:

  • We support information being provided to the public so that they can make informed choices on when and where to bathe.
  • We will provide advice to water companies and other bodies to help them establish and maintain ‘real-time’ warnings of combined sewer overflow (CSO) spills at bathing waters.
  • We will encourage partners to take a prioritised and risk-based approach to the issuing of spill warnings.
  • While the focus is on CSOs, the approach may be applied to other types of intermittent discharges which may impact on bathing water quality such as storm tank overflows.
  • We will not penalise water companies for issuing spill warnings by classifying them as pollution incidents, unless the overflow is operating in breach of the permit."

What this means is that the EA has given advance permission for certain instances of pollution by Water Companies and it will not classify these as 'pollution incidents'.

So, in a process that reminds us of the 'Indulgences' offered to sinners by the early Catholic church that granted full or partial remission of the punishment of sin, we now have the Environment Agency resurrecting that principle and granting absolution to water companies in advance of them polluting our bathing waters.

We're not impressed.

We're even less impressed that this is the outfit that's supposed to be regulating the environmental impact of fracking in Fylde.

In their reply to LCC, the Environment Agency went on to say it wasn't really their pigeon (perhaps that should be seagull?) because "The actual provision of real time monitoring is provided by the water company, in this case, United Utilities Ltd. As such United Utilities Ltd has provided its response to this recommendation which is provided here:"

They then quoted UU's response which was:

United Utilities is committed to extending its real time spill warning system which operates via our own website as well as providing the information to Surfers Against Sewage for use in their app and website. For the 2015 bathing season we plan to have real time spill warning live for 5 of the 8 bathing waters on the Fylde coast (Fleetwood, Cleveleys, Bispham, Blackpool North and Blackpool Central).

During this summer we will then investigate the feasibility of extending the warning system to the remaining 3 bathing waters on the Fylde coast (St Anne’s, St Anne’s North and Blackpool South) with a view to having it live for 2016.

In order to set up the system for these bathing waters we will need to work closely with the EA to agree the most appropriate assets to monitor in order to provide a meaningful warning system. We believe the coastal model we have invested in for this part of the coast will provide us with good information with which to set up a meaningful warning system.

Finally, I would like to confirm that we will continue to work closely with the Fylde Peninsula Water Management Group and will keep them updated on our progress.”

We don't want them to publish a warning system, meaningful or not. We want them to stop pumping untreated sewage into the sea.

We're trying to be polite about this matter an have avoiding using the vernacular term that they look to be '**** scared' of having to publish how much sewage is actually being pumped out of the Fairhaven mushroom, and how often that happens, but that *is* what it looks like to us.

It must have looked like this to County Councillor Mrs Oades as well, because as we saw from the LCC webcast - (which is sadly no longer available online) she asked the Scrutiny Committee considering the EA/UU response to send a further letter *insisting* that the monitoring be put in place at Fairhaven and all the Fylde coast beaches.

This sorry episode does nothing to allay our concerns about the great bathing water con that was played on us first at St Annes, and then extended to the whole of the Fylde coast as we now show.


Classification                     (click here for statistical data)
18 of 80 samples have been counted to give a current official classification of (a completely unbelievable) 'Excellent'

If all 80 samples had been counted the result would have been 'Poor' which means the beach had failed

Environment Agency Recent Warnings
42 warnings advising against swimming due to an increase risk of short term pollution were issued in 2015 for Fleetwood bathing water. (EA Website)

'Step Change' Provisions
We found an agenda for a Wyre BC meeting on 25 June 2015 which included the following "....It is anticipated that a step change application will be made by the Environment Agency to DEFRA allowing the clock to be reset and the average classification to be based on 2015’s results only."

Sure enough, out of the four years of sampling results that were taken, three complete years were disregarded using the 'Step Change' provisions just before the National 'Bathing Water' results were published.

Whatever the justification might have been for Fleetwood's discounting of so many of the samples, it is not specified on the EA's website - which merely says the disregarding is "..... due to improvements made to United Utilities assets."

We're not altogether surprised that dare not say which assets justify the Step Change because - unlike their storage tanks - we don't think they would hold water. The officer at Fylde told us it was based on the storage tank being installed at Singleton. Of course it's true that any increased storage capacity will undoubtedly help to reduce instance of sewage going into the rivers and the sea but, as at St Annes, this tank at Singleton is about 20 km away from Fleetwood and - using the logic we outlined earlier in this article for Blackpool South and St Annes, it's extremely difficult for us to believe that this is anything other than a plausible excuse to exclude 3 years worth of test results.

Discounting of Samples
In the fourth (ie final) year of this first four-year testing period - and for the one year's worth of results that they *have* counted, they have discounted another 2 of the 20 individual results in order to produce a better result.

This means that instead of being based on 80 samples, it has been based on just 20. But those 20 were then fiddled by discounting another two individual in-year results.

So Fleetwood's current 'Excellent' result is based on just 18 samples instead of the 80 samples that were tested.

If all the samples had been used, it would have been 'Poor' and failed miserably.

Once the 3 years of results were disregarded it became classed as 'Good' - but when another 2 samples in the year they did count were discounted, that has turned the 'Good' into 'Excellent'

The EA's website says "Large storage tanks have also been built at Fleetwood Sewage Treatment Works, together with large storage tanks in central Blackpool to reduce the number of storm overflows. Fleetwood Sewage Treatment Works discharges via a long sea outfall to the Lune Deeps in the Irish Sea. To the east of Fleetwood bathing water there has been further improvement work completed. Poulton Sewage Treatment Works was closed in 1996 and Hambleton Sewage Treatment Works was closed in 1999 with their flows diverted for treatment at Fleetwood Sewage Treatment Works. Preesall Sewage Treatment Works was improved in 1999 with the addition of disinfection to protect bathing water quality. The works was further upgraded in 2005 to improve treatment following improvements to the sewerage system around the Pilling Lane and Knott End areas in 2003. Additional storm storage provision was added at Preesall in 2007. Pilling Sewage Treatment Works was improved in 2003 providing disinfection to protect bathing water. Improvements were also made by United Utilities in 2008 to seven storm and emergency outfalls to protect bathing water quality in this area"

All very laudable. But our sharp-eyed readers will note that, in all of that massive amount of improvement work, the most recent date is 2008, and that's well before 2012, 2013, and 2014 to which the test results at Fleetwood relate and which were so bad they have had to discount the whole of that period from the result they have now published. Adding insult to injury, they have then discounted two of the test results from the one year they have considered - to be able to say the overall result is 'Excellent'.

We regard this result as a complete travesty of reality.


Classification                     (click here for statistical data)
79 samples have been counted to give a current official classification of (an honest) 'Poor' which is another name for a 'fail'

Environment Agency Recent Warnings
5 warnings advising against swimming due to an increase risk of short term pollution were issued in 2015 for Cleveleys bathing water. (EA Website)

'Step Change' Provisions
There has been no application for a 'Step Change' derogation at Cleveleys, so no whole years of results have been discounted.

Discounting of Samples
Only 19 samples were taken in 2014 rather than the usual 20.

Furthermore, an unusual situation seems to have arisen with a sample taken at Cleveleys on 23 August 2015. This sample is marked as being 'Discountable' and also as 'Measurements Corrected' . It is not marked as having been discounted, but there was another sample taken on the 20th August (which does not appear to have bee discounted either). The effect of this is that whilst 20 samples were taken in 2015, two of the tests were only 3 days apart with one being marked 'Replacement' and this is unusual. The official wording suggests that 23rd August test result should have replaced the one on the 20th August, but overall, the official sample count for all four years is 79 (rather than 80) samples, and given that only 19 are recorded in 2014, it appears that both the 2015 samples were recorded, but the position is unclear.

Using 79 samples and counting both 20th and 23rd August test results in 2015 the classification is 'Poor' which means it has failed.

That said, we expect the work currently in progress at Anchorsholme Park will solve much if not all of the problem at Cleveleys with regard to passing test results. We're less clear whether it will remove the risk to human health.


Classification                     (click here for statistical data)
79 of 80 samples have been counted to give a current official classification of 'Sufficient'

Environment Agency Recent Warnings
No warnings advising against swimming due to an increase risk of short term pollution were issued in 2015 for Bispham bathing water. (EA Website)

'Step Change' Provisions
There has been no application for a 'Step Change' derogation at Bispham

Discounting of Samples
Two individual samples were discounted from the 2014 test results (6 July and 1 August). But a replacement set was taken on 9th July. It therefore appears that two samples were removed from the results, but a third one was added in, giving 79 samples over the four year period. Curiously, the alteration of the 'Replacement' record shows it to be a replacement that appears to have been undertaken over a year after the sample was taken (Record Modified 28.10.15), but we've no idea what that is about.

In this case, the discounting of (in effect) one sample, does not materially affect the overall result for the current year because using all 80 samples gives the same classification. However, the second discounted sample might adversely impact on the future results in the four year rolling programme.

The upshot either way is that this year, Bispham gets a reasonably honourable grade of 'Sufficient' with just one sample discounted.

If all the Fylde Coast bathing waters were treated as we believe they should be (with all the samples having been assessed), Bispham's coliform pollution levels would be the lowest on the Fylde coast. And although it only gets a 'sufficient' grading this year, if you look at all the samples results (without discounting selected samples), it is actually the best of the Fylde Coast bathing water results.

Sadly, this says more about how bad the other beaches are than how good Bispham is.


Classification                     (click here for statistical data)
Just 20 of 80 samples have been counted to give Blackpool North a current official classification of 'Good'

If all 80 samples had been counted the result would have been 'Poor' which means the beach had failed

Environment Agency Recent Warnings
9 warnings advising against swimming due to an increase risk of short term pollution were issued in 2015 for Blackpool North bathing water. (EA Website)

'Step Change' Provisions
The text part of the EA's website currently says "A step change improvement in water quality has been identified in 2015 from 01/05/2015 at Blackpool North due to improvements made to United Utilities assets. Any monitoring samples collected prior to this date shall not be used for classification."

That statement says that just one of the four year's worth of samples have been disregarded.

It is incorrect.

THREE years of sampling have been disregarded under the 'Step Change' provisions.

The raw data from the EA shows the results for Blackpool North to be based on just 20 rather than 80 samples. That means 60 of the 80 samples taken over four years have been disregarded when calculating the result that have been published.

The discrepancy between the EA's text and their figures may be because both Fleetwood and Blackpool North's 'Step Change' derogations appear to have been declared on 12th November 2015 in what the EA call an "increment" to the Step Change derogations they had published earlier in 2015.

Beware the tangled webs.....

This date (12 November) is about the same time that the National bathing water results were published of course.

To us, this looks awfully like a 'last minute' decision to discount three years (rather than one) at this site because it was set to fail if only one year was disregarded, and this late change could well be the reason that Cllr Aitken was 'caught on the hop' saying it would fail. It looks to have been changed from 'poor' to 'good' after the publication (around the 9th or 10th of November) of Fylde's agenda item alerting other Fylde councillors about the failure at Blackpool North.

That said, our sharp eyed readers will also see that, if 3 years worth of results are being discounted, and the samples at Blackpool North from 01/05/2015 onward are the only ones being counted in the current assessment, and that after that date, there were still 9 warnings against swimming issued in 2015 (as the EA website says), then it's difficult to see how whatever 'improvements were made to United Utilities assets' before 2015 could reasonably be argued to justify the Step Change derogation - because they don't seem to have worked in 2015, do they? Ergo it looks to us as though the Step Change here was a complete fallacy.

Discounting of Samples
After applying the Step Change provisions that disregarded three of the four years worth of samples, none of the 20 samples in the final year was discounted.


Classification                     (click here for statistical data)
79 out of 80 samples have been counted to give Blackpool Central a current classification of 'Sufficient'

Environment Agency Recent Warnings
7 warnings advising against swimming due to an increase risk of short term pollution were issued in 2015 for Blackpool Central bathing water. (EA Website)

'Step Change' Provisions
There has been no application for a 'Step Change' derogation at Blackpool Central

Discounting of Samples
No Samples have been discounted at this bathing water but only 19 samples were taken in 2014 which is why the result is based on 79 instead of 80 samples. The large scale works that UU have done to improve this bathing water has genuinely made a substantial improvement - but it's still a long way from being 'good' or 'excellent.' This is the most honest of all the results along the Fylde coast and (like Bispham) whilst it currently appears to be one of the worst in the present set of bathing water declarations, if the other sites had been treated without disregards and discounting, (ie if each had had all 80 samples used), Blackpool Central would be the second best result on the Fylde coast. Which again goes to show how bad the others really are).


Classification                     (click here for statistical data)
39 out of 79 samples have been counted to give Blackpool South a current classification of 'Excellent'

If all the 79 samples that were taken had been counted the result would have been 'Satisfactory'

Environment Agency Recent Warnings
4 warnings advising against swimming due to an increase risk of short term pollution were issued in 2015 for Blackpool South bathing water. (EA Website)

'Step Change' Provisions
The EA's website currently says "A step change improvement in water quality has been identified in 2014 from 05/05/2014 at Blackpool South due to improvements made to United Utilities assets. Any monitoring samples collected prior to this date shall not be used for classification."

This means that 40 0f the 79 samples have been disregarded, and only two of the four years of sampling results have been considered. As elsewhere, the justification given is that infrastructure improvements that are not listed or further explained have been provided.

Dismissing half the sample results is what has allowed Blackpool South to be called 'Excellent' - but it is nothing of the sort. It is really 'Satisfactory'

Discounting of Samples
No samples were discounted from the two years worth of samples that *have* been counted but in 2014, only 19 samples were taken instead of the usual 20, This omission has probably not materially affected the result.


Classification                     (click here for statistical data)
38 out of 80 samples have been counted to give St Annes North a current classification of 'Excellent'

If all the samples had been counted the result would have been 'Poor' which means the beach had failed, but by disregarding two years results it moved up to 'Good' and by discounting individual samples within the two years they have considered, the result has been pushed into the realms of fantasy and is now described as 'Excellent'

Environment Agency Recent Warnings
35 warnings advising against swimming due to an increase risk of short term pollution were issued in 2015 for St Annes North bathing water. (EA Website)

'Step Change' Provisions
The EA says "A step change improvement in water quality has been identified in 2014 from 05/05/2014 at St Annes North due to improvements made to United Utilities assets. Any monitoring samples collected prior to this date shall not be used for classification."

So half of the four year samples have been discounted from the St Annes North results.

Discounting of Samples 2014
The official records show that in 2014 - exceptionally - there were 22 (rather than 20) samples recorded for St Annes North.

The regulations say that the EA has to "establish a monitoring calendar for every bathing water before the start of every bathing season, and take samples at every bathing water no later than four days after the date specified in the monitoring calendar." But there are some unusual classifications of the sampling data for St Annes North.

During 2014, on July14, and also on August 13, 20, 21, and 28th, the samples were officially classified as being 'Insufficient' This classification means that the "sampling frequency criteria or sample numbers in the assessment period were not satisfied for classification under the Revised Bathing Water Directive"

But as far as we can establish, they were all included in the samples being considered, although some appear to have been subsequently discounted and other samples have been allowed to take their place.

The sample dated 13 August 2014 is also marked as 'Measurements corrected' and described as a 'Replacement' sample, but it was also classed as being 'discountable' and in fact it has been discounted from the results.

Another sample (11th September 2014) was also classed as being discountable and has in fact been discounted from the results.

So with 22 samples having been taken, and these two samples being discounted, it still leaves 20 samples having been taken and counted over the whole year.

But as we have seen, even allowing for the 13th August sample to be discounted, there are another four samples from 2104 which were officially classed as being 'Insufficient' because they didn't comply with the set timetable, but they have nevertheless been included in the result.

Discounting of Samples 2015
In 2015, the correct 20 samples were taken, of which 4 were classed as being 'discountable' (May 22, July 28, August 4 and 14th), and two were actually discounted (August 4th and 14th), which is why overall the sample set for the four years shows only 38 rather than 80 samples.

The records also show that the 2015 samples for May 22, July 28, August 4th and 14th were all marked as 'Measurements Corrected' and were all classed as 'Replacement' samples even though two of them (Aug 4 and 14) were also discounted.

We are not able to say whether any of these samples was 'Insufficient' because the column that should contain the 2015 data is blank and has no recorded entries.

The discounting and resampling and correcting of results at St Annes North are the most complex we discovered so far along the whole of the Fylde coast, and it looks to us as though this is one of the most manipulated results of the whole coast.

With an (unprecedented) 35 warnings advising against swimming at St Annes North being issued in 2015, we find it very difficult to see how whatever 'improvements were made to United Utilities assets' before 2015 they could reasonably be argued to justify the Step Change derogation - because as elsewhere, they don't seem to have worked in 2015, do they? Ergo (if we needed anything to confirm our view that the Step Change provisions here are unjustified - which we don't) it looks to us as though this Step Change was a complete fallacy too.

The combination of removing two complete years of test results, and the removal from the calculations of two samples in each of the years that they DID count the test results, and the substitution of two other test results in one of those years, and the use of samples that are officially classified as being 'Insufficient' is what has given St Annes North a 'fantasy league' grading of 'Excellent' when, in our opinion it should have been classed as Poor / Fail.

Plain common sense exposes the blatant dichotomy of St Annes North having the highest number of warnings on the Fylde Coast and, at the same time, having been classed as 'Excellent'

This bathing water ought to have been shown to fail, and we regard what has happened here as a shameful distortion of the real situation.


Classification                     (click here for statistical data)
38 out of 80 samples have been counted to give St Annes a current classification of 'Good'

If all the samples had been counted the result would have been 'Poor' which means the beach had failed, but by disregarding two years results it moved up to 'Good.' And although discounting individual samples within the two years they have considered, left the results at 'Good' and the sample discounting has not changed the grading for this first four-year-rolling-assessment period, it will help to maintain higher results in future years as the old year drops off and a new one is added this time next year.

Environment Agency Recent Warnings
26 warnings advising against swimming due to an increase risk of short term pollution were issued in 2015 for St Annes bathing water. (EA Website)

'Step Change' Provisions
As at St Annes North, A Step Change derogation was approved in 2014 from 05/05/2014. Like St Annes North, this allows two years worth of results to be disregarded.

Discounting of Samples 2014
In 2014 there were 3 test results marked as 'discountable' and all three of them were discounted (June 11, August 13, Sept 11). These three samples are also marked "Measurements corrected' and are shown to be 'Replacement' samples.

There are also 8 samples dating from 2014 which are marked as 'Insufficient' (because they didn't comply with the set timetable for taking the samples). These were samples taken on May 12, July 14, Aug 8, 13, 20, 28, and September 7,and 11th. Two of these were also samples that were discounted from the result. The remainder, even though they have been classed as 'Insufficient' have nevertheless been included in the result.

Discounting of Samples 2015
In 2015, there were also three test results that were marked as 'discountable' (May 22, July 28, August 4). These three samples are also marked "Measurements corrected' and are shown to be 'Replacement' samples. So here again we suspect some of the sampling in this year was 'Insufficient' but we could not find this description shown in the data.

Of the three samples that could have been discounted, two (the worst two) were discounted. We suspect that to discount more than these two would have fallen foul of the requirement not to discount more than 15% of the samples.

Like St Annes North, the St Annes bathing water has some exceptional arrangements to exclude some of the test results from the calculation. A combination of removing 2 complete years of test results, together with the removal from the calculations of five individual sample results from the two years in which they DID count the test results, and the substitution of other test results, together with the use of samples in those two years that are officially classified as being 'Insufficient' is what has given St Annes a 'Good' classification. Arguably this result is even more extensively manipulated than St Annes North.

If all the test results had been counted it would have, unquestionably, failed.

So here again we have to question whether the derogation to disregard half of the test results was justified. We also have grave reservations about the use of the discounting and substitution of individual samples that took place'.

There is no doubt that the present (supposedly) 'Good' result for St Annes bathing water only exists because half the total samples have been disregarded and within those two years that *have* been counted another five test results have been discounted as the data sheets we have published in association with this article show.

Quite clearly, if more temporary storage tanks are provided, and if more sewage treatment works are built, the waters can improve further. But set against that are the additional numbers of houses that are about to be built in Fylde. We've heard it said that Fylde is planning to allow the building of more houses than Blackpool and Wyre put together. Also, according to that same EA Director's report to the Board "There is the potential for even more stringent standards in the future. The European Commission is considering the removal of the ‘sufficient’ class from the classification system in 2020. This could put a further 40 to 60 bathing waters at risk of failure"

So we don't think the problem is fixed.

The only thing being fixed at present are the test results.

Nationally, in the UK in 2013, four Step Change applications were granted: Weston-super-Mare (Uphill Slipway); Walney Biggar Bank; Walney Sandy Gap; and Walney West Shore

In 2014, seven more were added: Scarborough South Bay; Bridlington North Beach; Bridlington South Beach; Southport; St Annes; St Annes North; and Blackpool South.

In 2015, another was added at East Looe, an then just before the first of the 'proper' rolling four year test results was published, a further three were added: Blackpool North, Fleetwood, and Haverigg

It should not escape our reader's notice that ten of the 15 bathing waters which have had a 'step change' applied (out of a total of about 415 bathing waters in England) are in the North West where United Utilities is operating, and 5 of the 15 are on the Fylde coast.

This is a shameful situation where 66.6% of all Step Change derogations in England are in the North West, and where the fiddling of the figures is on such a monumental scale that people have difficulty believing this is what's going on.

The extent of the official adjustment and manipulation that has been employed to determine which bathing water samples you will count and which you will exclude from counting once you know what the result will be - sets an internationally outstanding benchmark that would-be Russian doping practitioners and German car producers must look upon with envy.

We can't regard these results as anything except a mockery of what most people would have expected to happen.

We're not saying anyone has broken the law because they haven't. But its requirements are being interpreted in a very particular and lenient way.

And we think that's to the detriment of public health on the Fylde Coast.

To us, these bathing water classifications bring shame on everyone involved who has not spoken out against this deceptive process that plainly sets out to convince the public that they should believe something that it is not.

It is a process that hugely damages public confidence and trust in what we are being told by those in authority.

It takes the confidence that we are entitled to expect from Government and its agencies, and it simply destroys it.

It is above all else, as we said at the beginning of this article, a confidence trick,  a con.

To produce this analysis, we have spent literally weeks researching deep into the detail of the individual test results for every bathing water on the Fylde coast. We have also reverse engineered those calculations to show what the results would have been if whole years had not been disregarded from the results, and if the individual samples that have been discounted had also not been discounted.

We now publish our own re-arrangement of the official figures for the first of the four year rolling period for each bathing water on the Fylde Coast.

Readers can click on the pdf link in the table below to see the real results for:

Blackpool North
Blackpool Central
Blackpool South
St Annes North
St Annes

Anyone wanting to cross check the figures we have used can do so if they visit the EA bathing waters website

Go to http://environment.data.gov.uk/bwq/profiles/

Wait for the map to load then click on the bathing water of your choice.

A box will open and you should click the link that says "see bathing water details" (for that bathing water)

Clicking the link takes you to a summary page which has simplistic information in the top half, and useful and interesting descriptive information as you scroll down. But to access the real data, you need to ensure that page has fully loaded, then use the link toward the top of the page where it says in blue text 'view the detailed water quality data'

Clicking that link takes you to a moderately simple page with graphs, but the really detailed information is under the links that say "detailed sample history"

Choose this to see the sample results, and you can also choose the year or years you want to see the sample results for.

For even more raw technical data use the "download data' link at the top of the page. Then under the 'pages' link chose 50 samples (to get all the samples for your chosen year and bating water on one page). From here you can also choose 'csv. from the 'data format' heading and load the raw data into a spreadsheet.

These numbers tell the real story if you're willing to spend the time digging into them.

But the story being put out by the combined might of the industry and local government spin machines is very different.

Just as what we can only describe as the fiddled figures in this Great Bating Water Con were published last month, Fylde's spin machine went into doublespeak overdrive. So we conclude this article by dissecting the opening paragraphs of Fylde's Media Statement of that time and putting our own counterbalance take on what Fylde sent to the media.

This is exactly why counterbalance came into existence. As we say on the homepage, we are - countering the spin and restoring the balance.


"The Fylde Coast could be set for its first ever Blue Flag, it was announced today."

The operative doublespeak word in this sentence is 'could'. It's not wrong to say it 'could' but it's never going to happen - a blue flag is not only a symbol of clean bathing waters. It's as much, if not more about facilities available at the beach, so unless the Council plans to install public toilets, showers on the beaches, Baywatch style lifeguard patrols an a host of other amenities (which they haven't been able to afford up to now), there won't be blue flags at St Annes. The intention of the media statement is to sub-consciously link the award of a blue flag to the bathing water results in our minds.

"Figures released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs this morning show that almost all of the area's sea water has passed strict new bathing water regulations, with three, Blackpool South, St Annes North and Fleetwood, being hailed for their 'excellent' sea water quality."

Again you have to watch the wording. That word 'strict' is right as far as the standards are concerned, but they've been anything BUT strictly applied, and the 'excellent' descriptor exists only because the bad samples from each of these beaches have been discounted for what we regard to be extremely dubious reasons.

"That classification puts the water quality at the three beaches on course to be ranked amongst some of the best in the world, by becoming eligible for Blue Flag status."

We probably don't need to tell our readers what's going on in this load of puff and doublespeak- its so obvious.

"Seven out of eight sea waters - Fleetwood, Bispham, Blackpool North, Blackpool Central, Blackpool South, St Annes North and St Annes Pier - have passed the new standards, after a remarkable turnaround in their sea water quality.........."

At last we can almost agree on something Fylde said.

But it's not just 'remarkable' - (and it's not even a miracle). It's a con trick using fiddled results.

To conclude, we say this. The sooner Fylde ditches the spin and gets back to having officers and members who are individually and publicly accountable via the media the better. The use of this sanitised 'advertising speak' to fill their useless and wasteful press statements delivers a service to no-one other than those of us who would illustrate how fearful they must be of the public finding out the real story that they feel the need to filter all comment via an unelected press officer who writes this sort of guff.

It's not only wrong, in public health terms, it could well be dangerous.

Dated:  8 December 2015


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