Residents 'flummoxed' after popular swimming spot refused official bathing water status

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A popular swimming spot on the River Thames in the Oxfordshire town of Wallingford has been refused designated bathing water status.

The site, known locally as Wallingford beach, hosts wild swimmers all year round, but in summer attracts crowds of bathers from the local area and visitors from further afield.

The application for bathing water status was submitted by water quality campaign group Thames 21, which was previously successful in a bid to get the designation for a nearby site at Port Meadow in Oxford.

Local resident and councillor Sue Roberts collected samples from eight different locations along the stretch of river as part of the bid.

"I'd been living in Wallingford for 35 years, brought up my children here, we regularly swim at the beach," she told ITV Meridian's Charlotte Briere-Edney.

Sue Roberts and her husband spent a day taking water samples ahead of submitting the application for bathing water status Credit: Sue Roberts

"We want to swim in this river. It is absolutely bewildering that we haven't got bathing water status."

"I'm devastated and totally flummoxed. I just can't believe it."

Wild swimmer and Thames River Champion Councillor Jo Robb added: "It's so frustrating and disappointing that so many people put such a huge amount of work into this application."

"Our government tells us that they're committed to cleaning up our rivers. And yet this just highlights to me that they're not serious about it at all, that it's just lip service."

Only 14% of English rivers are in good ecological condition, according to a report from the Environmental Audit Committee.

The same report revealed that: "The Government is not on track to meet the Water Framework Directive requirement [...] for all rivers to reach good status by 2027."

Wallingford beach is a popular swimming spot all year round

In a statement, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, which processes water status applications, said: "Government is committed to improving the quality of our coastal waters, rivers and lakes for the benefit of the environment and everyone who uses it.

"We would not comment on individual applications that are not being taken forward to consultation, but all applicants have been informed of the outcome of their application.

"When selecting new sites for potential bathing water designation, we consider how many people bathe there, if the site has suitable infrastructure and facilities, such as toilets, and if measures are being taken to promote bathing at those waters.

"All applications are assessed against these factors and applications that do not meet the essential criteria will not proceed to national consultation.

"Applicants are welcome to resubmit sites for future consideration."

Local resident and wild swimmer Sarah Webb says she won't give up her campaign: "I hope that we put enough pressure on the government to enforce the regulations on all the water companies."

"I'm an activist, and I believe strongly that we as individuals have the moral responsibility to put that pressure on.

"It's no good us just sitting at home watching the TV tutting, being aware. Being aware is not enough, you have to do something with that.

"So we're going down to Thames Water Headquarters in meeting this Saturday 18th, and we're going to show them that we are not putting up with this. And I invite every responsible citizen to get down there."

  • Sue Roberts says government and polluters must act now

Campaigners say there is no time to lose when it comes to the environment.

They argue this refusal to grant bathing status to a host of inland swimming spots across the country is a missed opportunity.

The designation means the water quality is tested regularly and regulators can demand polluters such as water companies take action.