Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Thanet Blue Flags, some thoughts from Thanet District Council


To the council's Press and Media Manager in response to the press release 


Hi ****

I did try to stop this happening last year, posted about it wrote to officers and so on, no recriminations and I am prepared to have another go.

This situation wasn’t caused by pollution incidents but by the failure to have a pollution warning set-up in place.

This is about not understanding the blue flag criteria, most especially criterion 28, anyway if the council wants its blue flag beaches back please put me in touch with the right officer and I will help get the situation resolved.   

Best regards Michael

Their Reply


Hi Michael
I've passed your e-mail on and someone will be coming back to you about it.


Regards,
**** 

From their Commercial Services Manager

Michael
As **** indicated she asked me to respond to you on this issue.

You have made a series of statements on your Blog that are just not
correct and in no way reflect the reason why the area has had a number
of its Blue Flag beaches reduced to Quality Coast awards.

The reduction is entirely based on a very limited number of lower than
excellent results we got last year, which almost all occurred during the
almost continuous north easterly in August last year. None of these
results appear to be associated with situations where discharges may
have occurred based on information our Environmental Health section
receive from Southern Water and the Environment Agency. This factor was
not a consideration that formed any part of the decisions by the Keep
Britain Tidy group in making Blue Flag award decisions for us.

In fact, because of the sheer number of awards we have got in the past
and still have we have regular contact both with the KBT group and the
EA and we are often used as a test ground for the work they do. This
includes working as a partner with the EA in planning for the
introduction of the new water standards. The current signs going up for
this year have been adapted to reflect this partnership work in advance
of the statutory requirement to display more information, and include
the position of sewage outfalls around the coast.

Your Blog indicates that the reduction in Blue Flag numbers is based on
a failure to act by the council which is entirely incorrect and the
council looks forward these incorrect statements being removed from your
Blog, as obviously they are untrue and damaging to the council's
reputation. This includes the statements copied below:

"My understanding is that if on these occasions the council put up
signs notifying the public that the sea was contaminated then we would
be able to retain our blue flag status on the effected beaches. 

What happens instead is that nothing happens, by this I mean that after
Southern Water make an emergency discharge of sewage near to one of our
bathing beaches, this doesn't result in the council taking down the blue
flag and putting up warning signs telling people the sea is
contaminated.

I tried last year to get the council to set up a system to overcome
this problem, the result appears to have been inaction causing most of
our beaches to be stripped of their blue flag status."

It would perhaps be helpful for completion's sake to mention the 7 bays
for which we have achieved Quality Coast awards from KBT that measure
very much the same things, and give a clear indication that our water is
safe to swim in.

Your Blog also seems to give the view that in swimming around our coast
would involve encounters with sewage. This is just not the case and
gives entirely the wrong impression as the chances of this happening are
vanishingly small.

***


My reply


*****. I think it easiest to illustrate what I mean with one example.

This was the pollution on 12th July 2010, this is what Southern Water’s senior engineer had to say about it.

“Pump failure 10 July Military Road pump station, engineer sent; wet well went to high level, 120 to 150 Litres per sec sent to Wetherlees.

Wet weather between 02.00 and 04.30 12th July 7.6mm rainfall. Pump No. 2 failed 02.00 resulting in emergency discharge early am.”

So on the morning of Monday 12th July Southern Water made a considerable discharge which they recorded, I don’t think this information was passed on to the council, if it was no action was taken.

No warning notices appeared at entrances to both beaches and tourist information offices, as would be required by blue flag criterion 28.

Even more ludicrously on the same day the EA made their weekly test, as though nothing had happened, I would assume that the results of this test would have been completed by the Friday 16th July 2010, so if the council were using these results to decide when to place warning notices, then I assume the unusually high levels of faecal coliforms 3,000 colonies per 100 ml, (this really is swimming in sewage) the council would have acted on this.

Once again no signs and during the weekend 17th 18th July the South East Region Beach Lifeguard Championships were held at Ramsgate main Sands.

This is a situation that suggests no system at all and my understanding is that it was the lack of any system that lead to Surfers Against Sewage putting pressure on the blue flag program to remove most of the Thanet beaches.

The solution to this problem is:

1 To have a proper system of communication with Southern Water that results in action being taken in the event of an emergency discharge. 

2 To engage in a serried of post discharge tests to ascertain how long after a discharge the signage needs to be in place.

3 To contact Surfers against sewage explaining that a proper system has been put in place.

4 To contact the EA and assure that their testing takes into account emergency discharges.

5 To explain the improves system to the people running the blue flag scheme.
Best regards Michael
His Reply to me.


Michael
Thanks for the email. No argument that the Council needs to get as
timely information as possible from Southern Water to allow it to make
decisions about signage and the flying of Blue Flags. However, I must
stress that this was not a factor in KBT's decision as this was
straightforwardly based on the results collected by the EA and run
through their normal criteria.

You seem to be reiterating your contention about this issue leading to
the loss of the Blue Flags to others but as indicated above this is just
not correct.

***

My reply to him


*** I think one major factor here is the SOS campaign and the marked similarity between the beaches dropped this year and the beaches they asked to be dropped during their campaign last year.

See http://www.sas.org.uk/news/2010/08/06/sas-call-for-35-blue-flags-to-be-withdrawn-from-beaches-around-the-uk/ I think there is a sense that the blue flag organisers look to be preparing to drop Thanet, which could be a bit of a nuisance factor in their three and half thousand beaches awarded world wide.

Underlying all of this is that the main issue for most people is being assured that the water they are swimming in is actually clean.

Very important here is that action needs to be taken now, at the beginning of the testing season, the most important of action being good clear public information following an emergency discharge.

Added to this I would think some clear information about the way recent periods of heavy rainfall can effect bathing water quality in areas with mixed drainage systems and emergency outfall pipes. Since this means most of Europe and all of the UK it shouldn’t be difficult to phrase that in a way that shows TDC is taking more care of bathers than most other places.

There have also been some recent changes to the EU bathing water directive that I think may be pertinent.

Yes I am saying that we lost at least one of our blue flags because of a poor system, mostly weak communication, in the instance I have mentioned, what actually happened was an emergency discharge caused by plant failure, followed by a test being made on the same day and adjacent to the emergency discharge that was then submitted as being representative of the bathing water quality. Adding up the rest of the results it would seem that this one error caused Ramsgate to lose its blue flag status.

Alternatively you are saying that we have an emergency spillage of some sort, something periodically happens on every beach in the world, then test in the middle of the spillage on the day of the spillage and submit that result.

I will publish this correspondence, with your name omitted, on the blog, which will hopefully clarify the situation; I understand that the whole blogging situation isn’t an easy one for the council. I do endeavour to obtain accurate information and present a clear picture and wish to thank you for replying promptly and constructively.   

Best regards Michael



There is also some comment about this on Thanet Life, see http://birchington.blogspot.com/2011/05/interesting-times.html 

26 comments:

  1. Another tdc jobsworth

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  2. A good illustration of the need by TDC to apply "joined up" thinking.

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  3. I saw 2 directors of tdc staring at margate beach...(looking for blue flags maybe) at the turner centre today, is it becoming the coffee house of choice for senior tdc officers ?
    I must say I was very disappointed by the displays/exhibition. the libraries put on a better show when they held exhibitions of the local A level students work.
    I can imagine people coming down from the town asking for their trainfare to be refunded as they had been lured to the gallery on false pretences.

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  4. 0h come on Michael... get a life and stop worrying about things that will not have any importance

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  5. Anon 20.10, so safety of Thanet's residents and visitors is not important then? Maybe with a hung council scrutiny of what TDC does and does not do will result in a more open organisation and Michael can sit back knowing that the publics interests are in safe hands.

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  6. 20:10 I hope that remark was tongue in cheek as of all the things Thanet offers visitors the beach is the BIGGEST attraction

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  7. 18.28 I have to disagree with you there, his replies were prompt, he followed my argument and I would say will try to do something to ensure that some system is put place to warn people not to swim after a pollution incident.

    Readit, not sure that this is really just a TDC problem, the fact that both Southern Water and the EA didn’t act on the information they had suggests a wider problem.

    20.05 I wonder how many artists exhibitions you noticed and if you really thought they were all A level standard, including the Turner.

    I certainly like the idea of asking for your train fare back if you didn’t enjoy the destination, something along the lines of Modern Utopia comes to mind here.

    Don and 20.30 I think 20.10 must be joking.

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  8. Blimey a quick response from a TDC official. Unprecedented.

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  9. I have previously queried Michael's motives as a local businessman for time and again he goes off half cock on stories not in the best interests of the local business community.

    All this TDC bashing is all very clever and funny to some, but what purpose is served, especially now immediately following local elections. Why can't people let the new council take shape and see how they perform before leaping in with instant negativity.

    When there is a problem, take it up with your local ward councillor, or MP if you wish, but DON'T spread it on the internet for the whole world to see.

    Is there not a saying about dirty washing in public. Michael may be well read, but he has certainly not taken that message on board. Perhaps he should move to Hay on Wye and give Thanet a break. Sure there must be a few problems there he could get his teeth into like litter in the Black Mountains or too many bookshops, perhaps.

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  10. Anon 00.17. There are many TDC officers who are very attuned to the problems in Ramsgate and are doing a very good job. The main problem in all this seems to be poor inter-department and inter-organisation communication.

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  11. The most worrying thing is that TDC officers seem to regard the downgrading of awards to 6 of the beaches as some sort of triumph.

    http://www.thanet.gov.uk/news/latest_press_releases/blue_flag_announcements.aspx?lang=en-gb&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_term=Thanet+News

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  12. Bill, sweeping it under the carpet will not make it go away. The fact remains we have lost 6 blue flag beaches which can be researched on the internet anyway and posting or not posting on a blog will not change it now.

    Someone needs to ask "why" and a blog is a very effective tool for doing just that.

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  13. So now we begin to see the tory strategy for the next four years. They've had a week to lick their wounds and now they've decided that anyone who dares voice concern is obviously anti-thanet. The flying phony and his cohorts in the north coast gods waiting room have launched their first barrage against michael but the others are clearly in their sights. Comment on high cafe prices in tc - you're anti-thanet, leave the island. Wonder about the need for a parkway station - leave immediately. And of course, if you live in red ramsgate you're beyond hope - simon and his acolytes won't be happy until its a ghost town.

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  14. Without revealing their names, can you tell us how much these people earn?

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  15. Ken, raising concerns with one's ward councillor, or MP if you prefer, is not sweeping it under the carpet, but directing it to where it needs to go. If enough of us did it on a regular basis I am sure it would produce results.

    I see no milegage either in results or the longer term good of Thanet in publicising all our concerns on the internet. Factual information is very different to hearsay and opinion and some of Michael's scare stories have proved wrong before.

    Anon 1314's comment is nonsense. This is not about politics, in any event what shade is the TDC now, but about people of Thanet supporting the place or is that too difficult to understand.

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  16. Michael used to refer to councillors by their salary until he was told off.

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  17. I see one of the north coast crumblies has put his sherry down. What colour is tdc - blue of course. 27 true blue + 2 independents who are blue orientated. Mind, apart from no night flights, which I hope will be jack cohens minimum price for support, I don't expect much more help for the red half of the island.

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  18. I think the TDC's replies to Michael speak volumes about the way this Council is run. They attack him for posting incorrect information on his blog, but don't do what any reasonable person would do, and explain why the blue flag was lost. They seem to forget that they work for us.

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  19. Sadly, there are some in Thanet who fully deserve the place they get, but that is pretty tough on the rest of us.

    Hopes of councillors getting the message and working together after an indecisive election and Thanet folk pulling in unison already seem unlikely. I guess the UK capital of whinge mania will contune unabated despite having some of the finest coastline and the best micro weather system in the UK.

    I do think the place deserves a lot better of its people, but what can you expect when the greater majority of them cannot even be bothered to vote when they have the chance. Much happier moaning. Sad!!!

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  20. 15.49 many of the more senior officers are either due to change posts or leave TDC in the near future, after this the new details of the highest paid officers will be published on the councils website.

    The comments about the results of the election are difficult to respond to, my own opinion is that a minority leadership will be a weak leadership resulting in the council being run along the lines of the officers wishes.

    I am not really sure that the council being run along the lines of the majority groups wishes is more successful, after all the officer recommendation was to pull out of the Pleasurama development last year and now it is going ahead against EA safety recommendations.

    However we live in a democracy, and this is something we pay for, I think the proper course of action at this point would be to call a public leadership election, it seems that both the Labour and the Conservatives gave the opposite parties leader a mandate when the ignored the unanimous results of the public consultation calling for an elected leader. The problem now is that with neither party having an overall majority no one has a leadership mandate. Perhaps they should have thought at the time and added that they would give this mandate to the party who won the most seats, but they didn’t

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  21. My day off today and there are a lot of comments here, I will do my best to respond, to long to fit into one comment, so two.

    Bill I don’t really think I have any half cock stories, my last lot of safety concerns have been the Pleasurama cliff, the bottom of one part now fenced off, admittedly it did take a bit falling off that was big enough to kill you after my complaint about it. I have withdrawn my concerns about the arched part of the façade, this was because I discovered the council had supplied me, the HSE and the contractor working there, with the wrong information about its construction. You may ponder three expensive cliff surveys commissioned and paid for by the council, followed by a £1m repair contract all working under the assumption that half the cliff façade had block infill, when it was in fact cast concrete.

    As I said I did take the blue flag issue up last year and tried to get a system put in place so that we would retain our blue flags, no action was taken and as we have lost most of the flags this seems like a good time for a more public approach to try and get some sort of system put in place.

    What you have to appreciate is that there just isn’t really anywhere on the coast where you don’t get pollution incidents and I think most people who swim in the sea appreciate this.

    If you agree with this and I can’t see how you can disagree, then it follows that every beach will have days where the sea is polluted to an extent that you probably wouldn’t want to swim in it.

    Using an example caused by mechanical failure was quite deliberate, the complex world we live in that is now essential to support the human population means that whatever failsafes we build into our infrastructure, failures occur causing pollution incidents.

    This means that on some days you really do have to pull down the blue flag and figuratively speaking put up a brown flag and the problem here is that TDC and I would expect a great many other councils have only one simple system, putting up the blue flag every day.

    I would say that pretty much any beach that never flies the brown flag, is a place where you can’t trust the quality of the bathing water, they may just as well put up a sign saying pollution never happens in this part of the sea.

    Perhaps you ought to read this post again, note that the officer says;

    “None of these results appear to be associated with situations where discharges may have occurred based on information our Environmental Health section receive from Southern Water and the Environment Agency.”

    I then reply quoting an example, it’s an uphill struggle, not a balanced dialogue with all the facts on the table trying to resolve the real problem. No one attempts to refute the facts once I have published them, no one is says it wasn’t 120 to 150 litres per second, no one is saying it wasn’t 3,000 colonies of faecal coliforms per 100 ml of seawater, with the blue flag flying and people swimming in the sea.

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  22. It would appear "Thanet Life" is again being selective about posting comments on the blog. My comment this morning in support of Michael's position and mentioning Ramsgate has turned RED, has so far failed to appear.

    So much for bringing your opinion to the attention of a councillor.

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  23. Ken, you could always write. I have had comments not reproduced on this site which Michael says went straight into spam. Have to take his word for it.

    Still think it is sad that it is business as usual on the blogs so soon after the election. I assume you did not waste your vote, but I wonder how many of the other commentators managed to drag themselves down to the polling station.

    As to the comment about the 'red' side of the island, didn't Laura Sandys win there by some 7,000 votes only last May. I see Broadstairs is also still 87% blue and that is also on the South side. On the other hand, Cliftonville West, Margate and Dane Valley, on the north side, are all red. The island divide is not so defined.

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  24. I see elsewhere that some councilor does not like you Michael questioning and trying to get information out of TDC because they dont have the time to do it. What a joke. TDC have only themselves to blame for not supplying the public with decent press releases in a timely manner. When we have a council that spends hundreds of thousands on making the chief exe redundant just before he is due to retire its a bit rich to say that your FOI requests are too costly. We wait to see in due course in the next accounts how much this one payoff has costs us and I am sure this is not the only excess.

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  25. Interesting how anonymous comments seem to appear OK, but mine have a happy of disappearing into the ether.

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  26. Bill just pulled comment your from spam folder, sorry this just isn’t something I have any control over, I don’t think I have ever failed to reinstate one of your comments.

    Unfortunately I get hundreds of spam comments that really are spam, the higher profile the blog, the more you get, my press release one only gets about two a day this one seems to average out at about fifty a day.

    You don’t go into the spam folder if you have a blogger id like Ken, I suspect that Simon missed it as he has comment moderation set, so he has to allow comments before they appear.

    I have emailed Simon pointing out that he may have missed your comment Ken, he is usually pretty good about publishing mine, even the ones that disagree with his point of view.

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