EMPTY B&Bs, derelict hotels and boarded-up businesses – that’s the picture of Blackpool’s future being painted by a top marine biologist.
As he surveys recent seawater quality reports for Blackpool and St Annes, Dr Robert Keirle, of the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS), said: “All that seafront investment will be wasted, Blackpool as a resort is going to die.”
The reports don’t read favourably. In the MCS recent Good Beach Guide, Blackpool Central, Blackpool South, St Annes and St Annes North failed and were labelled “potential health hazards”.
As the MCS’ pollution programme manager, Dr Keirle is the scientist behind the statistics, and he’s shouting loud about the potential impact of continuing bad results.
Similar statistics over the next four years would see swimming banned under new European standards, and, if the European Bathing Water Directive was implemented this year, data since 2007 means “don’t swim here” signs would already have appeared along the coastline at Blackpool Central, St Annes and St Annes North.
Despite the seemingly disastrous threat, the failure grades were brushed off by both Fylde and Blackpool Councils, who cited poor weather, on-going Promenade work and increasing standards as reasons for missing the targets, along with 42 other UK beaches.
Of the 20 tests carried out last year, Blackpool’s beaches and St Annes North failed to make the grade once, in St Annes it was twice. On other occasions, the beaches were found to surpass the minimum standards required.
But, for Dr Keirle, even one failure reveals an issue which needs sorting out.
He told The Gazette: “We do get criticism for publishing these results. People think we are trying to put resorts down, but that’s not what we’re about.
“We want to get the community to understand there’s a problem going on. People need to admit there’s a problem, because if you don’t sort out this issue, Blackpool as a resort is going to die.”
Dr Keirle is a man passionate about saving Britain’s coastline, and said he makes “no apology” for his dramatic language.
He is adamant if work isn’t carried out on the Fylde coast, tourists will turn away in droves.
“These aren’t aesthetic standards, they are public health standards,” he explained, as he describes the high levels of coliforms and faecal coliforms which need to be found in a 100ml sample – around the size of a plane-friendly travel shampoo bottle – for seawater to fail.
“I would not take my family to a poor quality beach, I wouldn’t want that risk. If these beaches fail and are closed, the socio-economic impact for Blackpool will be massive. Everything that’s been going on will be wasted because people will look twice at Blackpool.”
The data used by the MCS are the results of the regular testing conducted by the Environment Agency during the bathing season, which runs May to September.
Because it uses a full season of results, the Good Beach Guides relies on the tests carried out last year.
So far this year, Blackpool Central and South beaches have been tested three times. On all three occasions the South beach has met the ‘higher’ standard, while Central has met that level once and has two ‘minimum’ grades – still a pass.
St Annes North and St Annes both have one ‘higher’ and one ‘minimum’ grade after two tests.
However, last year’s failures for the beaches came in August, with St Annes also failing in September. In 2010, St Annes beach was posting ‘higher’ results for all of May, June and July.
Dr Keirle said the mixed bag of results on the Fylde coast points to two reasons for the poor water quality.
He said: “When it’s continuously bad, it’s a continuous discharge affecting the water quality.
“Because it’s spiking up and down, it’s got to be related to rainfall, which is having two consequences, and you don’t know which is the predominant one.
“Rain falling on agricultural land is flowing off fields, washing off whatever’s there into the streams and rivers and then affecting costal waters.
“And, when it rains, the sewers fill up, and if it’s continual rainfall, the combined sewer overflows (cso) fill up so you have dilute sewage coming out.
“There are positives – because on occasions you can get higher results. We’re not talking about impossible things. If it was continual discharge and every test failed you’d have a massive problem, but there’s hope if the campaign starts now.”
And as well as a need for the council to admit there’s a problem, Dr Keirle said the public needed to become more informed to tackle the issue.
He added: “They have to want the change. The councillors that can make the change were voted in by them and can be voted out. It’s got to happen if we’re going to save Blackpool.”
And if it doesn’t happen, Dr Keirle’s opinion is clear. Blackpool, as a tourism resort, will face an uncertain future.