South Tyneside leaders call for action on water quality testing as latest assessments show a slump in scores for Marsden and South Shields

A slump in the scores for water quality in South Tyneside has prompted concerns for the borough’s economy.

South Shields and Marsden Bay previously help scores of ‘Excellent’ and ‘Good’, respectively, for their official bathing water profiles.

But last year (2022) South Shields lost its three-star gold standard rating from the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), while Marsden has held a one-star ‘Sufficient’ rating since 2021.

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And it has prompted calls from bosses at South Tyneside Council (STC) for more government intervention to raise standards, as fears rise over the impact of sewage discharge from storm overflows.

Marsden Bay has seen its bathing water rating fall from 'Good' to just 'Sufficient'
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“We’re trying to make a sustainable future, but we can’t do that if utility companies are dumping in the ocean,” said Ernest Gibson, cabinet member for Transport and Neighbourhoods at STC, as well as chairmain of the Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group.

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"You can see the decline in our water quality.

"We were beach of the year last year and this is just not good enough – we depend on tourism for our economy.”

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Cllr Gibson’s call for action has been echoed by Green Party opposition councillor David Francis, who added: “The Green Group in South Tyneside has raised concerns about water quality on a number of occasions. At the end of November we wrote to the Environment Agency but sadly are still awaiting a response.

"We clearly have a duty to protect our coastline and do our best to protect wildlife, but we also need to consider the very real threat to human health - for local people and tourists enjoying our beaches.

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"We’re urging both the Government and Northumbria Water to take action to Save Our Seas, and protect them from sewage pollution.”

The Government has promised improvements through its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, but, according to STC, more testing is needed to properly assess the environmental impacts.

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The tests also do not currently sample for emerging threats such as antibiotic resistance and microplastics.

A spokesperson for Northumbrian Water said: “Investigations have already shown that the deterioration of water quality at Marsden is not as a result of our asset in the area, and we do not have any assets that have a direct impact upon Bathing Water quality at South Shields.

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“A wide range of factors can affect Bathing Water quality and we continue to work with partners, including the Environment Agency and South Tyneside Council to assess how we can support improvements in these areas.

“We continue to work collaboratively with other organisations and groups to deliver improvements to our environment, as well as nationally, playing an active part in the Government’s Storm Overflow Taskforce, and continue to invest to reduce our reliance on storm overflows.”

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An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “The North East has some of the country’s most fantastic bathing waters, with 94% rated Good or Excellent including South Shields which is rated Good this year, but any drop in standards is disappointing.

“We are of course disappointed to see that Marsden remains at a sufficient standard, as we know it is so important to the local community and enjoyed by many visitors. Investigations are ongoing at Marsden to better understand the reasons for this and we are working hard to improve bathing waters by regulating and holding polluters to account.”