A BILLION pounds could be wiped off the tourism economy if urgent action is not taken to clean up the Fylde coast’s sea.
That was the stark warning from Environment Minister Richard Benyon as he stressed the tourism industry will be under serious threat Blackpool beaches were closed for swimming.
Mr Benyon was one of the key speakers at the biggest-ever conference to discuss the future of the Fylde coast’s sea, which is currently at risk of having bathing banned if it does not meet tough new standards in three years’ time.
He said: “Where the minimum standard is not met there will be a clear sign advising against bathing, and the Fylde coast bathing waters are at a high risk of failing.
“An excellent classification will be a great tourist draw to more than half of England’s bathing waters but should all the beaches in the North West fail, the reduced visitor numbers could come at a cost of £1.3bn to the local economy over 15 years.”
As it stands Blackpool’s central and south beaches as well as the water at St Annes Pier and St Annes north are failing.
The water quality is tested several times each summer. Experts warned those gathered at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens yesterday that heavy rain means 2012’s results are likely to be among the worse yet.
But Blackpool Council chief executive Neil Jack said the authority – along with the Environment Agency and United Utilities – was committed to tackling the problem.
He told the Turning Tides delegates: “The reason Blackpool exists is people came here to come to the bathing waters to improve their health.
“We would not exist without our sea and it is a much bigger issue than just whether people swim in it.
“It is about the quality of the resort and we want to make Blackpool a stellar family resort like it was in the past.
“That will not happen by having great big signs going up saying don’t come here, it’s unclean and your children can’t go paddling.
“Blackpool will be a poorer place if we don’t achieve these standards and we have to make sure it happens.”
The conference’s key message was encouraging companies, the tourism industry and local residents to work together to improve the coastline, and representatives from local councils, community groups and environment groups attended.
United Utilities chief executive Steve Mogford added: “Water company investment is not going to solve all of the issues – waste water is only about 40 per cent of the problem.
“That 60 per cent is something else and we need partnerships to understand the root cause and action to be taken.”
FOR MORE ON THIS STORY, SEE TUESDAY’S GAZETTE