Tuesday, May 25, 1999 Published at 07:53 GMT 08:53 UK
Beach hygiene's north-south divide
Sewage outlets near beaches are criticised
A north-south divide is opening up in the quality of the UK's beaches, a report says.
Of the beaches recommended in the guide, 89% come from the south-east, south-west, Wales and the Channel Islands.
Chris Davis, Coastal Pollution Officer for MCS, said: "We continue to be extremely concerned about the number of beaches failing even the most basic of water quality standards in Scotland and the north of England.
Mr Davis said sewage in the water, as well as making beaches unpleasant, could cause illness for people bathing.
Chris Hinds, from the action group Surfers Against Sewage, told BBC News Online that the main problem was with water companies that only met the bare minimum standard for sewage discharges.
He said: "The companies we endorse, like Welsh, Wessex and Yorkshire Water, meet the European guidelines which are 20 times tougher than the legal standard.
"The minimum standard was set down 23 years ago - in effect you can meet the standard and still get away with what is just a watered-down slick of human excrement."
One of the areas singled out for criticism was the north-west - which has not had one beach in the guide in 12 years.
A spokesman for North West Water said poor weather and tidal factors also accounted for the discrepancy between the north and south.
Colin South, Waste Water Services Director for North West Water, said: "There is no doubt that bathing waters in the north west are cleaner now than they have been for decades, thanks to the substantial programmes of work we have carried out, and the MCS recognises that."
He said the Good Beach Guide had noted that more north-west beaches were now meeting EU standards.
Mr South said: "By the end of the decade, North West Water will have invested £2.7bn in wastewater improvements which have helped clean up rivers, streams and bathing waters.
"The company is poised to spend a further £2bn in the next five years."
West of Scotland Water, which is responsible for the water quality at many of the poorly-graded beaches, blamed exceptionally heavy rain for sewers overflowing.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Tourist Board said it had had many positive comments from holidaymakers who used Scottish beaches.
She said the Scottish Environment Protection Agency - which provided the data for Scotland for the guide - had limited resources and could only check about 70 out of 700 Scottish beaches.
"They tend to concentrate on beaches here they know there might be a problem, so the data does not accurately reflect the quality of Scottish beaches."
East Lothian has the highest number of Scotland's beaches, according to the guide.