Iain told the Gurn:
"It’s nice to get the Keeping Scotland Beautiful Award. But the one that matters is the new regulation signage that permanently labels Nairn beaches as having “Poor bathing water quality”. The three responsible bodies, Highland Council, SEPA and Scottish Water, have had their meeting and in their press release they tell us they are all doing a fine job. Their view seems to be that the water quality today is no worse than it was yesterday. Maybe, but we didn’t have signs yesterday. For us in tourism, everything is not fine and the bodies responsible have failed to grasp the significance of a tourism beach designated as having poor bathing water. It is completely disingenuous to declare that they will “focus on the risks” or that they can “support new bathing water objectives”. The agencies see signage as the answer to poor water quality - in other words, "let people know when it’s not safe to swim". For us in tourism, signage highlights a serious problem. And it’s not the electronic prediction advice signs. It’s the official signage permanently displayed on Central and East beaches, saying “Poor bathing water quality”. The problem is one of perception and sends out a message that Nairn beach isn’t safe. The signs tell us that all three responsible bodies have failed Nairn. They have failed to improve water quality despite having a clear remit to do so.
Water quality readings over the past few years indicated a developing problem. SEPA state the following on their web site: "Results indicate that mainly human sources are likely to be contributing to affect bathing water quality.” They also say that they have known this since 2003! So what have they been doing for 13 years? If more had been done, there may not have been a requirement for signage under the much more stringent EU regulations now in place. But the new regulation signs let everyone off the hook and offer an escape route rather than force agencies to address the problem. They are content to live with signs. We are not. SEPA are going to conduct further tests this year to see if agricultural run-off is the problem - again. But it’s not cow-pats we see bursting out of the sewers after heavy rainfall.
SEPA state in the press release: "A few very severe rainfall incidents pushed the water quality into the ‘poor’ category. We need to focus on risks and managing these occasional issues”. The causal factors may only be occasional but for Nairn beaches to be permanently labelled ‘poor’ is totally unacceptable for a tourism-based economy. SEPA have a remit under the Scottish Government to improve water quality. Yes, the bar has been raised but it hasn’t come as a surprise. Water quality targets have been missed year on year. SEPA still make allowances for the dumping of raw sewage in extreme conditions - an implicit acceptance that, at certain times, the system cannot cope. Highland Council and Scottish Water have a joint responsibility for sewage and storm water. Businesses and the community at large, rightly expect that a sewage system should be be able to cope at all times.
Scottish Water state in the press release: “We’ve completed a number of studies which indicate that the current sewerage system can support the new bathing water objectives”. Indeed, but only alongside the permanent beach designation of ‘poor bathing water quality’. It may “support the new bathing water objectives” - but “Poor” is not an acceptable standard for Nairn beaches! Scottish Water also say that “no one agency can deliver actions required to meet the new bathing waters’s ‘excellent’ standard on its own". Being positive, we take this to mean that the problem can be solved if all the agencies work together. So what is stopping you?
For a tourism-based economy, where the beaches are our greatest asset, we demand that these agencies work towards delivering quantifiable improvements. The signs not only provide bathing advice. They also stand as beacons shining a light onto past failure and inaction over known issues. They reveal agencies sleep-walking into what was an avoidable scenario. So please, no more hitting the ball into the long grass. No more hiding behind regulations that give you the wriggle-room to do nothing. ‘Poor’ clearly indicates that you are not trying hard enough. We call on all agencies to immediately embark on a programme of improvement and implement actions that lead to the return of a beach designated as ‘Excellent’. It can be done and we will settle for nothing less."