New protected sea swimming sites identified around coast of North Down and Ards Peninsula

Three swimmers in the sea
Sea swimming has grown in popularity. Credit: ITV

Seven new potentially protected sea swimming sites have been identified around the coast of North Down and the Ards peninsula.

At this week's full meeting of Ards and North Down Council, elected representatives were updated on suggestions for new sites following a consultation with the Stormont Department of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs on new official bathing waters.

Ards and North Down Borough is the council area with the largest coastline in Northern Ireland, and the borough also provided the Stormont consultation with the highest number of nominations of any of the eleven councils - over a quarter of the amount received.

Brompton, Skipping Stone Beach, Donaghadee Harbour, Portavoe, Barrs Bay, Burr Point, and Holywood have all been nominated by the Stormont department as candidate sites for bath water designation under the Quality of Water Bathing Designations (2008) act.

The department wrote to Ards and North Down Council asking if the authority would be willing to become the Bathing Water Operator on any of the listed sites.

The council report states: "Following the receipt of this correspondence, a meeting was held with the DAERA Marine Strategy Branch on June 24 to discuss each site. Two sites were immediately ruled out as options for the council as they are not council lands (Barrs Bay and Portavoe).

"DAERA further highlighted the impact on their resources that taking on additional sites would have, as each would require to be sampled weekly for water quality. Therefore sites which received very few nominations and are used by few people may be ruled out on that basis by DAERA, thereby calling into question the feasibility of Burr Point and Holywood.

"However, this does not rule out sea swimming taking place at any of these locations, or sea swimming classes and seminars/webinars being taken advantage of by participants at any site."

It added: "Further information was sought by council officers on the remaining three sites for the council's consideration, ie, Brompton, Skipping Stone Beach, and Donaghadee Harbour, particularly considering water quality and safety due to the presence of nearby watercraft and the harbour/marina.

"(The council's team at) Environmental Health was of the view that water quality may fail from time to time at these locations, which in turn may render the need for an advisory communication against swimming, due to the presence of combined storm/sewage water overflows (CSO's) in the vicinity, and therefore a risk of faecal material in the water after heavy rainfall.

"The council will be aware however of Northern Ireland Water works to improve the water quality at some CSOs and has asked officers to review the possibility of nominating sites for designation on the back of these anticipated improvements."

A meeting has been arranged between the council, Northern Ireland Water and the Stormont department for further discussions on water quality. After this council officers will prepare a feasibility report on the authority operating bathing waters at Brompton, Skipping Stone Beach, and Donaghadee Harbour.

At the council meeting, the new Alliance Councillor for Bangor West, Hannah Irwin, said: "I'd like to highlight the significance of the responses to this consultation, highlighting Brompton and Skipperstone being included. I think we all know they are extremely popular for groups and individuals wanting to use our waters for sea swimming.

"Given the increasing popularity of this activity, it is becoming a priority that these people can be assured of safety, and can be protected from the risk of swimming in polluted waters. I think it is important that these checks are done all year round, as obviously this activity is all year round."

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