Best beach in the UK hit with ‘thoroughly unpleasant’ raw sewage leaks as public urged ‘stay away’

Past visitors are now “rethinking” heading to the Norfolk beach that was named best in the UK last month in TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards

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A beach named the best in the UK has been hit with raw sewage discharges after heavy rain caused leaks into the sea.

Gorleston-on-Sea in Norfolk, voted the UK’s top beach on TripAdvisor, is one of 83 beaches across the country people are being urged to avoid.

Environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) is advising people to steer clear of a swathe of beaches across the UK due to raw sewage being dumped nearby.

The charity warns: “Gorleston-on-Sea became popular in Edwardian times and is still a busy seaside resort. A number of sewer overflows discharge into the River Yare that flows to the sea at the northern end of the beach.”

The Norfolk beach was named the best in the UK in TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards 2023 last month and came 12th place in Europe’s best beaches too. The beach also featured in the Richard Curtis film ‘Yesterday’, and has been visited by celebrities including Ed Sheeran and Danny Boyle.

Norfolk County Council’s scrutiny committee has said it will question bosses from Anglian Water next Wednesday (22 March) about sewage discharges in the county and how it intends to prevent them in future.

The scrutiny committee said it has already expressed and raised concern about the issue of sewage and storm outflows with the water firm after discussing flood issues earlier this year.

(Image by NationalWorld/Mark Hall/Getty Images/Adobe Stock) (Image by NationalWorld/Mark Hall/Getty Images/Adobe Stock)
(Image by NationalWorld/Mark Hall/Getty Images/Adobe Stock)

‘Thoroughly unpleasant’

Councillor Steve Morphew, chair of Norfolk County Council’s scrutiny committee, said the sewage discharges from storm overflows “have been high profile and are thoroughly unpleasant.”

He added: “This gives us the chance to get to grips with why it is happening and what is being done to prevent it in future. It has to be resolved quickly and measures put in place to ensure future developments don’t create extra pressure that leads to more incidents because the system can’t cope.”

One Twitter user said they will now avoid going to beaches in North Norfolk because of the raw sewage leaks into the sea.

They said: “I normally go to the North Norfolk coast... but this government’s policy regarding the allowance of raw sewage to be dumped (several nearby beaches have now lost the blue flag for bathing) has sadly made me rethink going there and sitting on the beach anywhere as safe!”

Meanwhile, fellow Twitter user ThomFrench questioned why the government had allowed sewage leaks to happen.

In response to Surfers Against Sewage’s recent pollution alerts, he said: “This includes my childhood home, Gorleston on Sea, where I spent many summers swimming in the sea. Why has the government allowed this?”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said “storm overflows are a necessary part of the current sewerage network” as they “act as relief valves which prevent the system from overloading during high rainfall which would otherwise result in sewage flooding homes, roads and open spaces.”

The government body said it will hold those responsible for harming the environment to account.

The spokesperson added: “We are holding the water industry to account on a scale never seen before –securing record fines of over £142 million since 2015 against water companies, launching a major criminal investigation into potential non-compliance at wastewater treatment works, and driving up monitoring and transparency to ensure the public can see what is going on.

"We will always seek to hold those responsible for environmental harm to account.”

NationalWorld has contacted Great Yarmouth Borough Council for comment.

Other beaches on the SAS’ warning list include Southend Jubilee Beach, Sheerness, Folkestone, Dymchurch, Camber, Bognor Regis and Cowes. Brighton, Blackpool and Whitstable are also among the tourist hotspots deemed hazardous.

SAS estimated that more than 400,000 discharges of untreated sewage into UK rivers took place in 2020 and there were almost 5,500 discharges into UK coastal bathing waters.