TWO popular sea swimming spots are to be officially recognised by the government.
Brompton Bay in Bangor and Donaghadee Harbour are both to be added to the register of bathing waters run by Stormont’s Department for Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).
The move means the bay and the harbour will be tested for water safety throughout the summer.
Ards and North Down Council has now been asked to formally take on the two spots, becoming the operator of both. The council is due to debate the proposal at a committee meeting this week.
Until now, the government’s official line was that neither Brompton Bay nor Donaghadee Harbour were swimming spots – something that came as a surprise to the hundreds of locals who regularly go for a splash in both.
Sea swimming enthusiasts and local politicians have spent several years trying to convince the authorities to add them to the register, which finally paid off as part of a DAERA review of bathing waters.
There were particular concerns about Brompton’s water quality, as there are several sewer overflow outlets around that part of the coastline.
Although NI Water have insisted that the sea should be fine after recent upgrades to sewerage infrastructure, officially registering the bay as a swimming area will mean it is tested for harmful bacteria from June to mid-September.
The results of those water quality tests will then be publicly posted at the bay, letting locals know whether it’s safe to head in for a dip.
Local politicians welcomed the move, with MLA Connie Egan, who campaigned for the two to be recognised while she was on the council, stating that she is ‘thrilled to see these areas become official bathing waters’.
“They are some of our busiest spots for swimming, with many local community swim groups having sprung up in recent years which is fantastic to see,” she said.
“Our existing official bathing sites frequently score excellently in water quality testing and more data will help us build a broader picture of the whole coastline.
“We will continue to push for the inclusion of other sites such as Skipperstone [as bathing waters] in future DAERA reviews.”
Her Alliance colleague, MLA Andrew Muir, said that he’s delighted to see years of campaigning and lobbying over the issue pay off.
“It’s been great to see the explosion in popularity of open water sea swimming and paddle boarding in recent years,” he said. “We’re spoilt for choice with such a beautiful coastline on our doorstep.
“I’m pleased to see that DAERA are also considering extending the official period for water quality testing [across Northern Ireland].
“People are in the water all year round, so an extension of the testing window would protect them from the potential dangers of polluted bathing waters.”
The DAERA review saw seven spots, including Brompton and Donaghadee, added to the pre-existing list of 26 official sea swimming areas.
Locally, that list already included beaches at Ballyholme in Bangor, Helen’s Bay, Crawfordsburn, Groomsport and Millisle.