We are very pleased that at the full Council Meeting on 20 July 2023, Cambridge City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve Cllr Katie Thornburrow’s motion (with a supportive Lib Dem amendment) in support of our proposed application for bathing water designation, subject to consideration by the Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee on 5 October.
The key section of the approved, ammended motion included the statement that : “This Council.. Agrees to evaluate the potential of a formal application to Defra for an inland water stretch along the River Cam within Cambridge City Council boundaries to be designated as a bathing site, working with Anglian Water and local partners such as Cam Valley Forum, in order to secure an improvement in water quality while also taking into account the impact of any increased usage and avoidance of significant additional cost; and requests a report on this to the Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee to inform a balanced decision by the Executive Councillor.”
We welcome this addition to our consultation process.
Why do we want to apply for bathing water designation?
Cam Valley Forum wants to apply for designated bathing water status for Sheep’s Green, because this is the most powerful way we have to improve the water quality in the Cam, for the benefit of swimmers, paddling kids, punters, kayakers, our rowing crews, other river users. We hope that a reduction in sewage pollution will also benefit our wonderful natural habitats.
The requirements for designation were changed a few weeks ago, and there is some confusion about this, because the DEFRA website is confusing. However we’ve had clarification from DEFRA that they want to see evidence that an average of at least 100 “bathers” a day use the proposed stretch, at least briefly during the peak 4 hours, averaged over just the 2 peak days of the summer bathing season. We are currently gathering this evidence, so you may see CVF volunteers out counting bathers at peak times at Sheep’s Green. Our impression is that, assuming we have some nice weather this summer, the current bather numbers at our proposed stretch (from Hodsons Folly to The Rush) are sufficient to achieve designation.
It is important to note that designation is about protecting the health of existing “bathers” not attracting new ones. The experience of other inland river groups, such as at the river Warfe at Ilkely in Yorkshire is that designation results in no change in visitor numbers, not least because it highlights the “poor” water quality (as we currently have in the Cam)
This “poor” classification then creates statutory obligations under the Bathing Water Regulations 2013 that should accelerate the much needed improvements in Haslingfield sewage works.
This is why councils and community groups across the country are applying. Sixteen inland sites have already achieved designation, including Wolvercote Mill Stream in Oxford, the River Wharfe at Ilkely, and the River Deben at Waldringfield in Suffolk. Hundreds of coastal sites have of course, had designated bathing water status for years.