Mayor jokes he 'won't get into' whether Teesside water is safe to drink

The Tees Valley mayor has said he "won't get into" whether the water in his area is safe to drink, amid local concern about sewage being pumped into waterways and sealife die-offs on the north east coast.

Ben Houchen, speaking to ITV News at the Northern Research Group conference in Doncaster, insisted it was just a "throwaway comment” and "not at all" related to crustacean die-off or sewage.

Light-heartedly promoting the north as part of a panel discussing levelling up, Mr Houchen joked "we have running water and everything up here", to which MP Jake Berry said "and it's safe to drink".

"And it's even safe -" Mr Houchen repeated before cutting his sentence short with "I won't get into that."

Twitter users responded furiously. One tweeted "I’m tired of these people. And I’m sick of our area being the punchline in their self-serving pantomime", while another said "the sooner Teesside kicks this man out the better".

The comment may not have received such a response from locals had it not been for the concern in Teesside about sewage and the thousands of dead shellfish which have been photographed washed up on beaches.

But Mr Houchen explained he was actually referencing how people visiting the north don't think they can drink tap water there.

“Water in our area is absolutely safe to drink," he said.

There's been concerns in Teesside and around much of the country about the quality of water, with water companies pumping thousands of litres of raw sewage into waterways.

But it is not clear whether that has anything to do with the thousands of dead and dying crustaceans washed ashore along parts of the north-east coast.

Mystery still surrounds the cause of the mass die-off but a report by the independent crustacean mortality expert panel says “a novel pathogen was the most likely” cause.

In March, the Environment Agency (EA) said: "While we know people are concerned, the combination of recent heavy swell, spring tides and onshore winds means natural wash ups will occur more often."