AN influential tourism guide has downgraded two of the area’s beaches as questions over the quality of the water linger.
The Marine Conservation Society, which published its much-anticipated Good Beach Guide today, has dropped the beaches at Roker at Seaburn one grade from “recommended” to “guideline” status.
Both beaches also lost their coveted Blue Flag status last year, as the group Keep Britain Tidy expressed concern about contamination, such as sewage, in the water.
The Good Beach Guide acknowledges unusually high levels of rainfall may have had an impact on the pollution of the water, but campaigners argue poor sewerage provisions are ultimately to blame.
Portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture at Sunderland City Council, Councillor John Kelly, said: “Despite Roker and Seaburn being among hundreds of beaches to suffer around the UK, both continue to meet the accepted quality of bathing water for swimming.
“Both beaches also continue to meet the criteria for the annual Quality Coast awards, and are set to benefit from the Seafront Regeneration programme which will revitalise our hugely popular foreshore.
“Sunderland City Council is committed to maintaining and enhancing our beaches as a popular tourist destination and environmental and community asset for our city.” Environmental campaigner Bob Latimer, from Whitburn, hit back: “It’s shocking for them to be claiming the water is meeting those standards.
“I feel as though the councillors are being like characters in Jaws, trying to encourage people to go back in the water.
“You can understand the difficulty, they want to promote the seafront but there’s an enormous problem here, and it won’t get better until we accept we have a problem.”
Andy Cummins, of Surfers Against Sewage, added: “Rain is not responsible for pollution. What is, is the inadequate sewerage system that heavy rainfall triggers.
“It’s easy to blame the rainfall because nobody can control that.
“The underlying story here is our sewerage system is not performing as well as it should be.”