Long-established seaside Christmas swimming spots have been flooded with sewage in recent years, raising concerns that swimmers could be sickened.
They will not be able to claim compensation as Tory MPs blocked a Lib Dem earlier this month amendment it would have allowed anyone who became ill as a result of illegal sewage dumping to claim from water companies.
During the festive season, swimmers traditionally wear cheerful fancy dresses as they dive into the sea at beaches from Eastbourne, Sussex, to St Ives, Cornwall.
Statistics analyzed by the Lib Dems found that festive swimmers will use beach fronts this year where 4,574 hours of sewage have been dumped. Among the 32 event sites analyzed by the party, it was found that nearly 1,000 sewage spills had occurred this year.
The former party leader Tim Farron said there should be a ban on sewage dumping in swimming areas.
In Sale, Greater Manchester, swimmers attending a Boxing Day charity event will be exposed to waters that have had 94 sewage discharges in the area. On the same day, an event in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, will expose swimmers to waters in which there have been 67 sewage outfalls lasting a total of 405 hours over the past year.
A New Year’s Day swimming pool in Saunderfoot, Wales, pumped 1,244 hours of sewage into nearby waters this year.
At Brighton, which is holding a festive swimming event, Southern Water fail to even monitor sewage, leaving revelers unaware of the water quality.
Two years ago outdoor swimmers in Oxfordshire were forced to cancel their Boxing Day swim after Thames Water announced a sewage spill on Christmas Day.
Farron, now the Lib Dem’s environment spokesman, criticized the “Christmas stench” left by Conservative ministers. He expressed fears swimmers could be sickened by the sewage, without compensation from water companies after Conservatives blocked a proposed new law in parliament earlier this month.
MPs rejected the amendment tabled by Farron to the Victims and Prisoners Bill by 267 to 27, a majority of 240, with the Lib Dem MP calling the result an “absolute disgrace” . He said that Conservative MPs “once again voted to let water companies off the hook.
“It’s a real whiff of Christmas for so many hoping to enjoy their traditional festive swim. The freezing cold water should be the only thing swimmers worry about, not sewage floating by them,” Farron said.
“It is disgusting that our coastlines and lakes have been polluted by this filthy habit. There should be a ban on sewage discharge in swimming areas. When will Conservative ministers finally crack down on profit-making water companies that are destroying our environment?
“It was shocking to see Conservative MPs block plans to compensate swimmers sickened by sewage. Not only do they let them pump sewage into waterways, but they are also satisfied that swimmers get sick.”
A report by marine conservation organization Surfers Against Sewage found 1,924 cases of people falling ill from suspected sewage pollution in the past year, almost triple the number of cases reported in the previous year.
The shadow environment secretary, Steve Reed, accused the government of turning a “blind eye to corruption and cover-ups” in the water industry.
He referred to a BBC Panorama report which investigated sewage discharges into waterways by companies deemed to have good environmental ratings. It found United Utilitiesa water company in the north west of England, mistakenly downgraded 60 incidents to the lowest possible category, meaning they officially caused no environmental damage.
The environment secretary, Steve Barclay, insisted the government was taking a tougher approach to monitoring and penalties, saying the spills from storm floods were worse in Labour-led Wales.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “This year, 96% of our swimming waters met minimum standards, with 90% now classed as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ – compared to just 28% in the 1990s.
“Our plan for water delivers more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement to clean up our waterways and swimming water, including £1.7 billion of this being used to tackle storm flooding to reduce over 10,000 discharges by 2025.”