Fat chance of safe water for Britain’s wild swimmers

The UK’s failure to designate inland bathing waters has a long and sorry history (How to turn England’s rivers from filthy sewers into shining streams, 18 April). When I was the lawyer for Surfers Against Sewage from 1992 to 2000, we regularly berated both Tory and Labour administrations (and the Environment Agency) for their persistent refusal to comply with the bathing water directive, which the European Commission had passed as long ago as 1976.

The directive was and is intended to apply to waters where bathing is “traditionally practised by a large number of bathers”. Whereas it was largely taken on board by most European countries (even Luxembourg had 33 sites), the UK devoted huge amounts of time and money into avoiding compliance wherever possible. The only plausible reason for this foot-dragging was to protect the profits and dividend payments of what were then the newly privatised water companies. That remains the only reason for the UK’s continued failure to designate bathing waters and protect the health of thousands of citizens every year.

Now that we’ve left the EU, I suspect that the chances of this government complying with an EU directive are about as good as finding a non-sewage-polluted stretch of inland water anywhere in the UK.
Charlie Hopkins
Planning and environmental consultant, Axminster, Devon

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