When you first think of Blackpool, the quality of its seawater is not the first thing that springs to mind. But all that is set to change following a programme by the local authority to help clean up the resort’s beaches.
The town recently became the first in the north west of England to receive a coveted Blue Flag for the Blackpool South stretch of beach, which lies directly opposite Blackpool Pleasure Beach. The award represents a remarkable turnaround for this particularly part of the resort. In both 2012 and 2013, the Environment Agency rated water quality on Blackpool South as ‘poor’. Now it is classed as ‘excellent’.
Blackpool’s three other beach areas have also been granted by Seaside Awards by the Keep Britain Tidy group, giving the holiday destination a clean slate.
‘As the leading resort in the country, our visitors expect the beaches to be clean and the sea quality to be good,’ says Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for bathing water, Fred Jackson. ‘For the hoteliers, particularly on the promenade, it’s vital to their business.’
But the transformation in local water quality has not happened overnight.
‘In the beginning, it was hard because the media was battering Blackpool and saying “we would not achieve these standards”. Even the Marine Conservation Society, at that point, was not supportive,’ explains Cllr Jackson.
The first step was to set up two committees that could take the work forward. The Fylde Peninsula Water Management Partnership, saw Blackpool Council join forces with neighbouring local authorities and other stakeholders to work on improving the area’s beaches.
The second partnership – Turning The Tides – saw agencies from across the north west come together to help launch the Love My Beach programme and work on improving water quality through infrastructure, education and campaigning.
The challenge continues, but it shows just what can be achieved through partnership and determination – Sarah Jenner, environmental strategy manager at United Utilities
Blackpool Council’s director of community and environmental services, John Blackledge, says the key was working with other organisations and getting ‘people to understand we all have a part to play in this’.
‘It’s not just one thing alone that makes a difference,’ he says. ‘It’s working with farmers, so we don’t get water running off from their land into the rivers, which flows into the sea.
‘It’s working with United Utilities to take some of the water outflow further out into deep water, so it’s not around the coastline.’
The utilities company has invested more than £600m since the early 1990s along the Fylde Coast on various projects to capture and treat wastewater. The firm is also carrying out £100m worth of infrastructure improvements, including a new storm water storage tank and outfall pipe at Anchorsholme Park.
‘We are thrilled for Blackpool that all the hard work is now paying off,’ says United Utilities’ environmental strategy manager, Sarah Jenner. ‘The challenge continues, but it shows just what can be achieved through partnership and determination.’
The resort’s hotel industry had a key part to play and used material produced by the Love My Beach campaign to encourage visitors to think of the environment when they went to the toilet.
‘It’s amazing what people have put down the toilet and that does affect the quality of the sea water,’ says Cllr Jackson. ‘The hoteliers have worked with us and for them, anything that brings bad publicity to the town affects their business, so they are always grateful when we do something positive.’
The council has also been running programmes in local schools to help encourage pupils to think about the environment and what the council and other groups are doing to preserve the local beaches.
Looking towards the future, Cllr Jackson says representatives from the council are sitting on the Local Government Association’s special interest group for coastal resorts and officers are now giving advice to other councils about how they can improve water quality.
‘The advice is you can’t do this alone,’ says Mr Blackledge. ‘You have to work with the community, businesses and Keep Britain Tidy, who administer Blue Flag. In particular, you have to work with the Environment Agency, and our relationship with them has gone from strength to strength.
‘We are looking for Blue Flags across the whole of our coastline,’ he adds. ‘Neighbouring authorities are also now considering going for it. We are the first resort in the north west to achieve Blue Flag. It’s now an aspiration for elsewhere and we’ll be supporting our partners in doing that.
‘We will continue to work with schools in relation to education and we still have a wider programme around the environment, litter and recycling. It’s part of something much bigger for a cleaner, greener Blackpool.’