Guidance

Bathing waters: apply for designation or de-designation

How to apply to get a bathing water officially identified or remove the designation of an existing bathing water.

Designation

Any beach or inland water used by a large number of bathers can be designated as a bathing water, provided it meets the criteria for designation. Local authorities usually apply for the designation, but if the site is privately owned the landowner must support the application.

Defra hasn’t set a numerical limit for ‘large number of bathers’ because a bathing water may be a beach in a large resort or a smaller site, and each may attract a number of bathers proportionate to its size.

If you’re considering making an application, you should contact the Bathing Water team at an early stage by phone 020 8026 3462 or email bathingwater@defra.gsi.gov.uk.

Designation evidence

State on your application if you’re the site’s owner or leaseholder. If you’re neither, state the local authority or private landowner and whether the application has their support. Defra will contact them to discuss the application and request independent confirmation that they are supportive of it.

Your application must include this evidence:

User survey

A user survey during the bathing season (15 May to 30 September) at times when peak usage would be expected (weekends, bank holidays and school holiday periods).

The surveys must be carried out when high numbers of users are expected. This may be during the warmest part of the day or may depend on tidal conditions, eg if the beach is covered at high tide or the sea is too far away at low tide.

If there is established local usage of the bathing water at particular times, the surveys should take this into account.

Surveys should cover a minimum of 20 days including:

  • 10 weekend or bank holiday days
  • a breakdown of the number of swimmers, paddlers and other beach users - the numbers of adults and children paddling should be shown separately.

Half of all survey days must be in school holiday periods.

You may also submit photographs or surveys to support historic trends for a high level of users if applicable.

Facilities

Include information about any facilities at the site, for example:

  • access facilities
  • public toilets
  • changing facilities
  • parking
  • lifeguards
  • first aid service
  • cafes, shop or kiosks

Local consultation

Provide evidence of consultation during the bathing season with local groups and organisations that may be affected by designation, for example:

  • bathers and other beach users
  • owners of beach huts or other beach facilities
  • owners and operators of on-beach and beachside businesses, in particular cafes and shops
  • residents of the closest town or village
  • local environmental and civic groups, and the chamber of commerce
  • neighbourhood and community representative groups
  • parish and town councils (where they aren’t the landowner)
  • local tourist office or other local tourism body
  • local regeneration office or other local regeneration body
  • county, borough, district or unitary authority (where they aren’t the landowner)

De-designation

You can apply for a bathing water to be de-designated if one of the following applies:

  • there is evidence that the site is no longer used for bathing
  • the local authority or beach owner is working to deter bathing for safety reasons

Your application will be rejected if:

  • you want to deliberately reduce the numbers of bathers for any reason other than safety
  • it’s based on poor water quality

De-designation evidence

If your application is based on safety reasons, you must send evidence of:

  • the specific safety hazard
  • how it’s dealt with in the local authority or beach owner’s beach management plan
  • a photograph of any warning signage that’s in place

If your application is based on a local ban on bathing you must provide:

  • the reason for the ban
  • evidence of the ban in local law or beach management plan
  • evidence on how the ban is communicated and enforced

Your application must also include this evidence:

User survey

Your user survey must show evidence of low usage or no users.

Carry out the user survey during the:

  • bathing season (15 May to 30 September) when peak usage would be expected (weekends, bank holiday and school holidays)
  • time of day when high numbers of users are expected - this may be during the warmest part of the day or may depend on tidal conditions, eg if the beach is covered at high tide or the sea is too far away at low tide

If there is established local usage of the bathing water at particular times, the surveys should take this into account.

Surveys should cover a minimum of 20 days including:

  • 10 weekend or bank holiday days
  • a breakdown of numbers of swimmers, paddlers and other beach users - the numbers of adults and children paddling should be shown separately

Half of all survey days must be in school holiday periods.

You may also submit photographs or surveys to support historic trends for a low level of users if applicable.

Facilities

Provide information about any facilities at the site that support and promote bathing, such as:

  • access facilities
  • public toilets
  • changing facilities
  • parking
  • lifeguards
  • first aid service
  • cafes, shops or kiosks

If there are no facilities, state whether they’ve never existed or whether they’ve recently been withdrawn.

If facilities have been recently removed, include a letter in your application setting out the reasons why the services were withdrawn.

Local consultation

Provide evidence of consultation during the bathing season with local groups and organisations that may be affected by de-designation, for example:

  • bathers and other beach users
  • owners of beach huts or other beach facilities
  • owners and operators of on-beach and beachside businesses, in particular cafes and shops
  • residents of the closest town or village
  • local environmental and civic groups, and the chamber of commerce
  • neighbourhood and community representative groups
  • parish and town councils (where they aren’t the landowner)
  • local tourist office or other local tourism body
  • local regeneration office or other local regeneration body
  • county, borough, district or unitary authority (where they aren’t the landowner)

Any consultation must make clear that if the de-designation application is successful then:

  • bathing water quality would no longer be monitored
  • the bathing water may lose existing high levels of protection
  • no future improvements aimed at meeting bathing water standards would be made

Submit your application

Send designation and de-designation applications by 31 October for consideration for the following year’s bathing season to the Bathing Water team at Defra:

email bathingwater@defra.gsi.gov.uk

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Area 3D Nobel House
17 Smith Square
London
SW1P 3JR

What happens next

Defra assesses applications. If an application meets the evidence requirements, Defra will hold a 6-week public consultation and will also consult these organisations:

  • British Destinations
  • British Long Distance Swimming Association
  • Consumer Council for Water
  • Country Land and Business Association
  • Department for Culture, Media and Sport
  • Marine Conservation Society
  • National Farmers Union
  • Outdoor Swimming Society
  • River and Lake Swimming Association
  • Surfers Against Sewage
  • UK Beach Management Forum
  • Visit England
  • Water UK

Defra will consult the Environment Agency and the local water company for additional information about the beach or inland water concerned.

Defra ministers make the final decisions on designations and de-designations.

Defra will notify the applicant, relevant local authority, water company and landowner of the decision made on designation or de-designation and the reasons why.

If the evidence doesn’t meet the requirements, Defra will contact you to explain what you need to supply. The consultation will be postponed until the additional evidence is received.

Defra will inform you if the site doesn’t meet the criteria for designation or de-designation.

If the site is designated

The Environment Agency will develop a bathing water profile and put plans in place to monitor and protect the bathing water. The local authority is responsible for providing public information in line with the requirements of the Bathing Water Regulations. The Environment Agency will provide text for the local authority’s public information sign.

If the bathing water is de-designated

Water quality at the site will no longer be monitored for compliance with bathing water standards. The local authority must remove any signage referring to the site as a bathing water.

Water quality more generally will continue to be protected by other measures such as the Water Framework Directive, the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

Published 9 February 2016