Sewage Strikes Again: Blackpool Urges People Not To Swim In Its Waters After Leak

A burst pipe means untreated waste was pumped straight towards the beaches.
The Fylde coast at Blackpool, Lancashire
The Fylde coast at Blackpool, Lancashire
Phil Noble - PA Images via Getty Images

A raw sewage leak near Blackpool means people are now being urged not to swim in the nearby waters, in the latest for Britain’s waste wars.

Local water company United Utilities said that the untreated waste was released into the Irish Sea on Monday evening during a local thunderstorm, mixed with rainwater.

A pipe, broken even before the storm, meant a lashing from the weather (where saw 44mm of rain fell in two hours) quickly triggered an overflow.

Local councils have subsequently urged the public not to swim in any of the following beaches: Bispham; Blackpool Central; Blackpool North; Blackpool South; Cleveleys beach; Fleetwood; St Annes; and St Annes North.

United Utilities’ wastewater director Mark Garth said it was a “very unusual incident”, and that repairing the pipe, which is 30ft underground was going to be “complex and challenging”.

The water company said that work was “expected to take some time while engineers install temporary pumps” and 2,000m of overland pipework.

The temporary overland pipework means the closure of Fleetwood Marsh Nature Reserve, too.

“You can still enjoy the beach and all the piers, just don’t go in for a paddle,” Blackpool council leader Mairead Smyth told BBC Breakfast on Wednesday.

She claimed the tests so far showed the sewage has had a minimal impact on the local waters, and “we’re hoping that when the sewage was released, it was at high tide, so it’s taken it out” – but she emphasised that more information is needed before the public can return to swimming.

Sea water polluted with sewage can trigger stomach, chest, ear, eye infections, e-coli, salmonella and hepatitis A problems.

Although this problem stems from a broken pipe, this is just the latest development in an ongoing saga in Britain around water sanitation and sewage – despite Garth’s claim that it was “a very unusual incident”.

Yes, the UK has been having an ongoing battle with sewage recently.

Last August, photos of sewage filled beaches filled social media, bringing the long-standing practice to light.

After all, water companies are allowed to pump untreated sewage into the country’s waterways in exceptional circumstances, such as when water puts the system under too much strain. This is why flash floods were common last year too.

A series of sewage overflows sparked nationwide complaints, so water firms finally laid out a plan to tackle the problem.

The UK’s privatised water and sewage companies have vowed to oversee the biggest modernisation of English sewers “since the Victoria era”.

But, water bills will gradually increase in the meantime – something the companies only admitted in May.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme back in May, Anglian Water’s head of public relations, Regan Harris, explained: “The initial investment will be put forward by our shareholders and the way we’re financed is that they put up that investment and Ofwat allows us to recover a proportion of that from bills.

“What we’re looking at is a fairly small increase of probably a few percent a year between now and 2030.”

Any bill increases won’t be confirmed until 2025.

Households in the UK have already felt the largest increase to water bills in almost 20 years across 2023, when they climbed to £448 a year amid the cost of living crisis.


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