Southend loses another Blue Flag over dangerous bacteria found in water

A Southend beach has been stripped off its coveted Blue Flag award after the water failed quality tests during an inspection.

Water on Thorpe Bay beach was found to contain e-coli after a sample was taken during its last assessment for a Keep Britain Tidy Blue Flag award.

Presence of e-coli can cause severe stomach upsets as well as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis.

The award is presented to “well-managed beaches with excellent water quality”. Southend’s city beach also missed out on the award in January after issues with the water quality.

Southend West MP Anna Firth has called for tests to be re-done, while Martin Terry, indepndent councillor for Thorpe Bay, has blamed Southend Council and Anglian Water for “failing to maintain and update drainage pipes”.

Anglian Water has insisted the issue is not related to sewage discharge.
Cllr Terry said: “E-coli is directly linked to faeces, human waste. I’ve been banging on for years and years about tide-lock, which is the system’s incapacity to hold water when there is a high tide.

“Now have we not only not got the Blue Flag on our main tourist beach, City Beach, now we’ve also lost it on Thorpe Bay beach which I think is disgusting.”

Cllr Terry added: “I’m outraged by it. Beach users and residents are still being left at risk because of the tide locks.

“I’m not a health expert but I would suggest it’s not safe if you’ve got e-coli in the water.”

Ms Firth added: “I am hugely disappointed, this certification is hugely important for residents and for our local economy. As I understand it, prior to the last sample of the season, the bathing water was on track to retain its excellent classification and it seems absolutely ridiculous to me that the blue flag has been taken away purely based on this one sample, where the excellent standard was missed very closely.

“I firmly believe that the water in Thorpe Bay should be re-tested as soon as possible so that we can restore a Blue Flag to the beach as soon as possible, and this is something that I will be encouraging the council to call for immediately. I will also be writing to the Environment Agency today to call on them to re-test the water in Thorpe Bay.”

A spokeswoman for Anglian Water confirmed the “final sample had failed” during testing.
She added: “There was rainfall the night before the final sample was taken however, this result was not due to any of Anglian Water’s assets in the area as there was no discharge from any of them.

Meg Davidson, councillor responsible for the environment, said: “Whilst East Beach, Three Shells Beach and Westcliff Bay have all been graded excellent in terms of water quality and will retain their blue flags, unfortunately Thorpe Bay’s bathing water classification has dropped from excellent to good. Due to this, it can still be granted a seaside award this year, but not a blue flag.

“Of the twenty water samples taken by the Environment Agency at Thorpe Bay between May and September 2023, one showed high bacterial levels.  There is no obvious reason for this, so it is assumed that the source may originate from a variety of sources, some distance from the sample point.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter