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Select committee to improve water quality in Plymouth

Wednesday, 15 November 2023 16:48

By Alison Stephenson, local democracy reporter

Plymouth Hoe (image courtesy: Robert Pittman:Creative Commons)

Reputation of Britain's Ocean City is at stake

Moves to improve water quality in Plymouth so it can confidently market itself as Britain’s Ocean City are to be stepped up.

A select committee is to be formed  by the council to give water “the attention it deserves” and find innovative ways of reducing sewage spills into the city’s waterways.

Plymouth is weeks away from hearing if it has been successful in a funding bid to become the UK’s first National Marine Park. It’s claimed this has provided momentum to bring organisations including South West Water and the Environment Agency around the table, city councillors were told at growth and infrastructure overview and scrutiny committee.

South West Water has committed to reducing spills from storm overflows to an average of 20 per year by 2025 across the region and is earmarking £20 million of investment to improving bathing water quality at Plymouth Hoe.

Last year the city had 3,065 sewage spills, lasting a combined total of 15,486 hours, of which 423 were at Plymouth Hoe West.

Cabinet member for environment and climate change Cllr Tom Briars-Delve (Lab, Stoke) said the scale and regularity of storm overflows was “alarming” and in the past few days these had been activated near Firestone Bay and Millbay, next to important bathing spots.

He said South West Water is promising a big improvement but it is not just the water company that is to blame, agricultural is also a significant factor.

“This is something we need to grapple with on both sides of the Tamar Estuary,” he said. “Because of the emphasis from opposition parties and the public and campaign groups like Surfers against Sewage, this is on so many people’s radars now. I think the water companies and the agricultural sector are being held to account of this topic more and I  hope we can go further on this.”

The council is working with South West Water and the Environment Agency to on some projects and is looking at what they call ‘nature-based solutions’ to improve water quality.

Mr Briars-Delve continued: “It deserves a select committee that comes under scrutiny where we can involve experts from the marine park project which is at the heart of this work, as well as from agriculture and the main stakeholders.”

“We can’t do this alone, we need to work with partners to deliver a much cleaner national marine park, where both marine life can flourish but also where our residents can swim and engage with the water in the knowledge that it is safe.

“We need to also make sure that these projects are improving flooding resilience in some of our more vulnerable communities.”

Cllr Lauren McLay (Green, Plympton Chaddlewood) said: “We are Britian’s Ocean City, we built our reputation on our water so need to get this right, I really welcome a select committee on this.”

Cllr David Salmon (Con, Plymouth Dunstone) said: “It’s terrific to hear we are co-operating and working with South West Water. We have been talking about increasing tourism, cruise liners, huge events with 30,000 people on the Hoe, more people in hotel accommodation, it’s important we take that extra footfall into account when it comes to planning.”

Chairman of the growth and infrastructure overview and scrutiny committee Cllr Richard Bingley (Con, Southway) said all parties within the council “unequivocally” supported cleaning up the water in Plymouth: “Our economy depends on it,” he said.

The bathing waters at Plymouth Hoe East and West which are within the national marine park zone are currently classified as “excellent”  by the Environment Agency.

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