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Bathing Waters: England

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 23 February 2023

As a keen wild swimmer in Devil’s Point and Firestone bay in Plymouth sound, which is the country’s first national marine park, I have been working with Plymouth City Council to declare that really special piece of water a designated bathing water. May I ask the Minister to don her wetsuit and join me in the sea, where I can show her not only that incredible piece of water and the expanding access to it—especially for people from poorer communities—but, importantly, the raw sewage pipe that occasionally emits appalling human waste into a special and environmentally important bit of our sea?

I do wear a wetsuit when I go swimming in the sea—I am a bit of a coward, but I love to put my wetsuit on and go swimming in the sea.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, he will have to wait until May to see where we go with that particular designation, but we already have 421 designated bathing sites in England as of last year—that number has gradually been going up. The good news about those sites is that 93% of them are classed as “excellent” and “good”, so their record is extremely good. I will take a rain check on whether I join him for a swim.

Why are there only 421 such sites? People can go wild swimming anywhere in England and other parts of the United Kingdom. Is this whole designation scheme not essentially a rationing scheme? Why do the Government not abandon it and enable people to swim in bathing waters anywhere?

To be quite honest, one can swim wherever one wants; it is just that there is a process for what we call designating bathing waters. In the application for that, one has to demonstrate that there is sufficient interest in using that site—that high numbers of people want to use it—and that there are car parking facilities and public facilities, including loos and so forth. That is all part of encouraging designated sites, but it is not to say that people cannot choose, in their own right, to swim wherever they want.