North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir made a splash at the Assembly on Tuesday 2 November when he brought concerns about water quality and safety at Coastal Bathing areas across North Down.
The Alliance representative used an Adjournment debate to highlight the dangers of pollution, the need for regular water quality testing and the importance of both water safety education and enforcement after recent sewage discharges and near misses between swimmers and jet skis.
Speaking on the matter Mr Muir said: “With coastal bathing and other open water pursuits such as paddle boarding increasingly popular partially as a result of the pandemic which encouraged people to get outdoors, an improved response from government is essential.
Living in North Down I am acutely aware that the beautiful beaches on my doorstep that not now only used during these Summer months but throughout the year by swimmers, paddle boarders, kayakers and other open water sports enthusiasts.
On a daily basis in both warm and cold weather many people are now using our coastal waters at many different places. It is therefore vital that any possible risk to the health of swimmers, paddle boarders and others is quickly identified and reported before they choose to take the plunge. The current bathing water quality testing regime is entirely insufficient only taking place only between 1 June – 15 September at a small select number of sites. Many of the now popular bathing areas around North Down are excluded, such as Brompton and Skippingstone in Bangor and Orlock in Groomsport.
Worryingly a waste water pumping station located near Helen’s Bay beach has been found to have pumped raw sewage into the sea on a number of occasions over the last number of years but without any warning system in place all bathers are told to do is avoid the water for 48 hours after heavy rainfall. With no system to tell bathers the pumping station had been busy potentially polluting the sea some only find out when it’s too late leaving them to rush home to wash down and at risk of serious health problems.
Raising further concerns, Mr Muir continued: “Urgent increased investment in the water bathing infrastructure, promoting safety through well-placed visual information, sea awareness and convenient access for all is also required.
With a lack of regulation around recreation and personal watercrafts, the current risk to swimmers is colossal and I am regularly contacted by constituents who have either witnessed or experienced these near-collisions. Proposed actions by both the Department of Transport in London and Department for Environment at Stormont to both better regulate and provide powers of enforcement for use of personal watercrafts are welcome but can’t come quick enough.”
Concluding, Mr Muir stated “I feel immensely proud to live in an area of such amazing natural beauty and to observe the trend in individuals and groups making the most of our beaches and open water for their physical and mental health. Moving forward it is essential government better supports this increasingly popular activity by ensuring regular, wide-reach water-sampling across North Down, good communication of this information to bathers and both increased safety messaging and enforcement to ensure everyone has an enjoyable, but more importantly safe visit to our beautiful coastal areas."