Improving our bathing waters

Investing in the North West

In the past, the quality of bathing waters in our region has been poor. In 1988, just six of the 29 bathing waters met mandatory bathing water guidelines.

Over the last 30 years we have spent £1.5 billion improving the region’s bathing waters. It has involved engineering on a massive scale, bringing sewage treatment for the first time to Blackpool and Fleetwood and upgrading treatment processes. We’ve also completed major projects to store vast volumes of storm water. By 2021, all of the bathing waters in the North West passed the minimum standards and 93% were classified as Good or Excellent.

Our Investments

  • AllonbyOur £4.5m project at Allonby wastewater treatment works was completed in April 2016. We increased the capacity of the plant by building additional treatment units which now reduces the number of storm spills in wet weather.

  • image of a riverIn 2017 we invested £6.4m installing ultra-violet light disinfection at our treatment plant to improve the final treated effluent returned to the environment.

  • Carnforth construction workAt Hagg Lane we completed a £7m project in 2017 to help improve bathing waters at Morecambe. This involved building a new underground tank to reduce storm water spills into the River Keer.

  • Construction imageIn April 2017 we completed a £14m project to upgrade Chorley wastewater treatment works. By increasing the capacity of the works and improving the process we now discharge cleaner water to the River Yarrow which helps improve bathing waters and shellfish beds off the Fylde Coast.

  • Kendal WwTWIn 2017 we completed a £3.5m project to install ultra-violet light disinfection at Kendal WwTW. This helps improve the water quality in Morecambe Bay.

  • Preston WwTWIn 2018 we invested £19m upgrading Preston wastewater treatment works by building extra storm water storage on site. We can now store the equivalent of 47 Olympic-sized swimming pools, which reduces the need for storm overflows to operate, improving bathing waters at St Annes, St Annes North, Southport and Blackpool South.

  • Blackpool storage tankIn 2018 we invested £38 million at Blackpool South. This major project separated rainwater away from the sewer system in the Marton Moss area, using new sustainable drainage systems. We also constructed an underground storage tank to collect storm water, which likewise helped reduce the frequency of storm overflow spills.

  • Anchrosholme storage tankIn 2019 we completed a £100m project which involved building a 12,000 cubic metre new underground storm storage tank, pumping station and long sea outfall pipe at Anchorsholme Park in Cleveleys. This has reduced the volume of storm water spills which are now discharged 3.7km off the coast, well away from the bathing waters on the Fylde coast.

  • Morecambe WwTWIn 2020 we completed a £70m investment scheme at Morecambe wastewater treatment works. As well as installing the latest treatment technology, we built more than 9,000 cubic metres of tidal storage which prevents discharges during low tides and a new outfall pipeline. We also built 24,000 cubic metres of storm water storage at the nearby Schola Green pumping station which has reduced the number of storm discharges.

  • Blackburn Ww storageIn 2021 we completed a major £160m upgrade at Blackburn wastewater treatment works. This included more than 23,000 cubic metres of additional storm water storage, the equivalent of 9 Olympic-sized swimming pools. These improvements have led to reduced spills and improved water quality in the Rivers Darwen and Ribble and ultimately the bathing waters of the Ribble Estuary and the Fylde Coast.

  • Overflow pipesWe have completed a £4 million Regional Coastal Modelling project, working with expert consultants and the Environment Agency. This has given us greater understanding into the contributions from our assets as well as impacts from other sources allowing more targeted action in future.

  • Cows in the riverWe have contributed £1.5m to an initiative working with the Ribble and Wyre Rivers Trust, Natural England and the National Farmers Union. This has led to a better understanding of the other sources that can affect bathing water quality on the Fylde peninsula. The project reduced pollution from 30 farms along the Ribble and Wyre estuaries by supporting activities such as fencing off watercourses from livestock, building a wetland to treat a discharge from a slurry store and installing wash down facilities on farmyards.

Having fantastic bathing waters is no small task

In the past, the quality of bathing waters in our region has been poor. In 1988, just six of the then 29 waters monitored in the region met bathing water guidelines.

However, by 2021, all of the bathing waters in the lovely North West met the necessary standards and nearly all were classified as Good or Excellent. Achieving this has been no small task.

  • Years ago, the region’s waterways were used for disposal of raw sewage. It's not a nice thought but there was no wastewater treatment at all at Blackpool or Fleetwood and until 1995 it was quite common for up to 570 million litres a day (or 34 million toilet flushes) to be discharged off the region’s coast. We’ve come a long way since then.

    The North West has many densely populated areas, including large clusters of homes and businesses around the coast. For example, if you don't mind heights and stand at the top of Blackpool Tower, you can see the size of the area which drained to the sea.

  • There's no getting away from the fact that it's not the Mediterranean round here. Our region is one of the wettest in the UK, and our drainage systems are based on Victorian sewers which were designed to carry both foul waste and rainwater. 

    Rainfall washes pollution into rivers and seas, whether that is storm water overflowing from the sewer system, or surface water running off highways or grazing land used by livestock.

    Storm overflows are permitted and monitored by the Environment Agency, and they occur during periods of heavy rain when the sewerage systems fill up, in order to avoid flooding.  You can see in the section above that we’ve been doing a lot to reduce the impact of storm overflows and we have a plan to make many more improvements in the coming years. You can read more about that here.

  • Farmers and the general public also have a part to play - water that runs off fields containing animal droppings, and dog fouling on beaches, affect water quality too. Simply picking up your dog's mess on a beach walk can help.

    See what other part you can play in helping to keep the region's water clean.