IT’S the billion pound – rather than dollar – question.
Will people continue to come to Blackpool if our beaches are declared unfit for bathing in three years time?
Or is it all castles in the air?
William and Karen Aldridge from the Midlands have visited the resort for 30 years – six times last year alone.
“The seafront regeneration has played a big part in that,” says Karen.
“Nothing would stop us coming back or going on the beach if the weather was nice.
“Blackpool’s better than ever.”
Thomas Ellwood, of Blackburn, father of Abigail, two, says he would still take his daughter for a paddle.
“It’s what dads do, the stuff we all remember. Yes, we’d have to be careful but I don’t think Blackpool’s worse than other places. I’d rather see the back streets improved. They’re really run down.”
Sisters Sophie and Annalise Sharpe, 12 and 10, of West Yorkshire, enjoy swimming at the Sandcastle Waterpark – in warmth and safety.
“We’d paddle in the sea, but not if there’s nasty stuff in it,” says Sophie. “It needs to clean up,” adds Annalise.
Grandfather Steve Marshall reckons Blackpool receives a bad press. “It used to be terrible in Bridlington – and Cyprus isn’t much better.”
A billion pounds is the figure floated in terms of likely losses to tourism if action is not taken to clean up the Fylde coast’s sea, according to Environment Minister Richard Beynon at this week’s Turning Tides summit on sea standards.
Paradoxically, it’s also the sum United Utilities has invested in the last 20 years into sewer network schemes “to end daily discharges of raw sewage along our coastline which has improved bathing waters.”
Since 2006 some £200m has gone directly into improvements on the Fylde coast.
Anyone who lingers long enough to read such information at the United Utilities pumping station site at Manchester Square will learn of improvements there and also in waste water treatment at Fleetwood and Bloomfield Road, Blackpool.
Perversely, passersby still pick up the suspicion of an associated odour, although it’s a far cry from the stench which pervaded with the ebb and flow of the tide of old.
There’s been a sea change, for sure, but it’s got some way to go. And there are still some who see sewage as Blackpool’s Jaws. We all know it’s out there, but few wanted to admit it for fear of driving tourists away.
One major change has been a giant “interceptor” sewer, big enough to drive a car through, 14km long beneath the Promenade, collecting waste water from sewers which used to discharge straight to sea, taking it to Fleetwood Waste Water Treatment works to be made clean instead. But our beaches must be at least three times cleaner to pass the stringent new bathing water standards which will come in 2015.
The revised regulations will be twice as tough as the current requirements – and we’re already flunking those. So for all those lovely new headlands, seafront art, and award winning promenades, all born of improved coastal defences and allied grants, we still fall short of any chance of seeing a Blue Flag out there.
So is it time to fly the white flag and surrender to the tide of filth still borne by our seas? Dr Robert Keirle, of the Marine Conservation Society, says we “really have to get our act together to save Blackpool.”
He calls it “make or break time.” He says problems arise from “a mix of untreated sewage which still goes in from overflows, agricultural and livestock waste washed off the fields into rivers and draining into the sea, and urban pollution, dog mess washed off streets, into coastal waters as well.” The wash out summer hasn’t helped. The run-off has to go somewhere.
Dr Keirle says the issue has been talked up, and about, for decades yet the problem still exists. We’re all in it together but are we in it to win it?
He wants more of us to take responsibility. “We have to admit the scale of the problem, accept we are all part of the problem and commit to being part of the solution.”
How? By educating people not to drop litter on streets, or the beach, for dog owners to clean up after pets (the new dog orders are a step in that direction), and educating people to make sure washing machines and toilets are plumbed into sewers and not surface drains.
It seems basic stuff, but not in a week when TV’s new Blackpool-based 999 What’s Your Emergency series revealed soiled nappies were chucked out of a window into a garden by a young mum. What hope of her seeing the bigger picture?
But there is hope. Tonight Dr Keirle addresses a public meeting, at Cleveleys Community Centre, organised by Rossall Beach Residents and Community Association.
Here is an association which has gone from a standing start – born of self interest initially after yobs were running amok locally.
In the last four years it has also run beach cleans and conservation projects and provided information boards on the seafront. It is also just about to clinch charity status. As with the best campaigns, charity begins at home.
or tweet her @jacquimorley