Agenda item



Ms Bailey asked Councillor Albon the following question:


“Environment Agency Pollution Risk alerts were issued at Viking Bay over several days at the height of the season. TDC put up warning notices, the RNLI flew red flags and ordered people out of the sea over a tannoy causing alarm. These widely reported alerts had a seriously detrimental effect on local businesses and the wider reputation of Broadstairs. According to the EA website, Pollution Risk Forecasts are made daily based on measurements of Rain, Tide, Time, Sunlight & Wind, however the seawater is only tested weekly. Do we know the accuracy of these ‘forecasts’, are they ever confirmed by retrospective testing? Is this arrangement between TDC and the Environment Agency optional? If yes, what is the rationale for signing up, how long is the agreement and can it be reviewed? If not, is there anything we can do to mitigate the adverse effects on tourism and businesses?”


Councillor Albon responded:


·  The objective of the Pollution Risk Forecast (PRF) system is to alert beach users to the potential for temporarily increased bacteria levels in bathing waters.  The Council displays notices to advise that a PRF is in place and this enables bathers to avoid times or locations where the risk of pollution is higher than normal and where health risks from bathing may be higher than the annual classification suggests.

·  It is important to note that this is advice against bathing, this season the RNLI chose to fly a red flag at Viking Bay in response to pollution risk forecasts but they did not order members of the public out of the sea.

·  PRFs are not directly linked to storm discharge notifications and are not informed by a water quality test; the forecast is generated by a model which considers weather, rainfall and tidal conditions in order to make a prediction. High rainfall is known to affect water quality on a temporary basis, mainly as a result of surface water runoff.

·  There is no sampling undertaken to verify Pollution Risk Forecasts. However, routine compliance samples that indicate elevated bacteria levels taken during short term pollution may be excluded (disregarded) from the annual classification, provided that the signs have been correctly displayed to alert potential bathers of the PRF in place. In some circumstances the PRF scheme can therefore help to maintain the annual bathing water classification. The bathing water classification is an important qualifying criteria for Blue Flag and Seaside awards.

·  There were more PRF’s issued during July and August this year than in previous years this was directly linked with the unseasonal weather at the time.  We understand the concerns of local businesses who may be impacted by poor weather during the summer season and the issuing of PRFs.

·  Officers have therefore committed to engaging with the Environment Agency over the winter months to seek a review of how the PRF system is applied at Viking Bay and consider the council’s participation in the scheme. This may also include working with the RNLI to review the use of a red flag during a PRF and consider other ways of communicating the warning to beach users.