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Wednesday, 30 September, 1998, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
'I don't like to be beside the seaside'
Turning his back on the beaches...
Turning his back on the beaches...
Environment Minister Michael Meacher has refused to brave swimming in the sea off Blackpool after branding the waters a health hazard.

Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 5 Live he would not be taking to the waters at one of the UK's most popular seaside resorts - and he urged the public not to do so either.

The minister could get into hot water for his comments which may further damage relations between the Lancashire town and the Labour party.

Labour announced earlier this year it would not be returning to the resort for the foreseeable future.

The local council immediately hit back at Mr Meacher, saying it was the government's Environment Agency which was responsible for enforcing the rules.

"Blackpool has made tremendous efforts to raise standards of water quality over recent years and yet he is criticising Blackpool for something which it is his job to improve," a spokesman retorted.

Mr Meacher's verdict on the resort's much-criticised beach was part of a general attack on coastal water quality across the north west of England.

He said: "I am not going for a swim and I would not recommend anyone else to.

"This is a very serious issue and I am extremely conscious that in the north west there are several beaches - and Blackpool is one of the key ones - where we are slipping back, where we aren't meeting the basic mandatory standards of clean water."

Problems despite investment

Blackpool still faces accusations it is failing to meet European Union standards on beach pollution despite spending 150m on a new sewage plant to clean up the surrounding sea.

Last year, the Environment Agency dropped painted cucumbers into the sea to track flow patterns for waste, including sheep droppings, washed up on Blackpool's beach.

Mr Meacher said he wanted investment and procedures to ensure water standards improve so taking in a mouthful of water off Blackpool and neighbouring resorts would no longer be a health hazard.

He said: "I am determined that we do get here and elsewhere coastal water that we can proud of, that will produce more tourism and that - if you do take in a mouthful of water while you are swimming - it would not matter."

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