Cheshire West and Chester Council, working with local groups and other key stakeholders, will launch the Clean Dee Consultation on Thursday 20 July.
The River Dee is one of Chester's greatest assets but concern about the pollution of our rivers and coastal waters has been growing over the last few years. While there are several sources of pollution, attention has focused on the issue of untreated sewage being discharged into our waters, particularly during and following periods of heavy rainfall.
Responding to increasing local concerns about river cleanliness, the Council set up a cross-party task group of councillors to investigate this issue and they recommended that the Council should look into the feasibility of applying to designate part of the river as a bathing water.
Designated bathing water status refers to the designation of a beach or inland water as a bathing water so that information on water quality is provided to bathers and their health can be protected.
Bathing water designation does not mean the water meets bathing water quality standards or that the water is safe for bathers, but it can be the first step to ensure action is taken to improve water quality by reducing contamination.
This six-week consultation will inform a decision on the feasibility of submitting an application to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for a part of the river to be designated as a bathing water.
In considering applications, DEFRA takes into account the facilities at the site, the number of bathers and the outcome of a local consultation.
On 3 July 2023, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published new, stricter guidance on the criteria and the application process. Further clarification of some of the new criteria is still being sought.
The Council has been monitoring the use of the river since the end of May 2023, based on the previously published criteria, and it will continue to do so until the end of the bathing season (30 September), now based on the new criteria.
Although there are several sites where people bathe, it is only Sandy Lane, upstream from the river ferry, that potentially fits the published criteria.
Improved water quality would, of course, benefit not only bathers but also a wide range of other leisure and sports users, including paddlers, paddle boarders, canoeists, rowers, leisure boat users and local businesses as well as the environment and wildlife.
The purpose of the designation is to protect existing bathers, not to increase the number.
More generally, as part of its ongoing commitment to promoting water safety throughout the borough, the Council is working with consultants and others in helping to ensure that a wide range of users can enjoy water safely.
Once a coastal water or river is designated as a bathing water the Environment Agency is required to test the water quality throughout the bathing season (from 15 May to 30 September) and then to categorise the bathing water annually at the end of the season as 'Excellent', 'Good', 'Sufficient' or 'Poor'.
The Council is carrying out the public consultation to explore the views of all stakeholders – local residents, community and sports groups, visitors and businesses – who are asked to give their views on what the river means to them and how they use it.
From 20 July, you can take part in the survey here. (cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/CleanDee)
In addition to the online survey, respondents can give their views in an email, in writing and by requesting a paper version of the survey. Paper versions can be requested by contacting the Council's Public Protection team (see below).
The consultation will close on 31 August 2023.
Once all the required information, including consultation responses, has been collected, the Council will consider the results and then make a decision on the feasibility of an application. The results of the consultation will be published on the Council website.
Any application must be submitted by 31 October.