Following the judgement by the European Courts that the UK is guilty of polluting the Burry Inlet the Labour candidate for MP for Llanelli Nia Griffith has launched a scathing attack on those failing to comply with EU directives including Carmarthenshire County Council.
For a number of years the cockle gatherers of Carmarthenshire have been claiming that the deaths of cockles in the Burry Estuary and surrounding cockle beds were as a result of raw sewage polluting the beds. The UK has been found to be in breach of EU laws over the amount of sewage and waste water discharged into the waters off Carmarthenshire.
The cockle gatherers have long claimed that the overflow pipes along the Burry Inlet near Llanelli, which are used to help stop flooding have been contaminating the beds.
The cockle gatherers had noticed annual mass cockle mortalities increasing in severity since 2002. They suggested that the mass mortalities coincide with capacity issues in the local sewer system allowing untreated sewage to be released into the Burry Inlet and surrounding areas. In June 2005, beaches were closed due to significant spills as a result of a broken pipe. That spill resulted in a legal case against Welsh Water when they were fined £20,000.
Nia Griffith acted on behalf of the cockle gatherers attending meetings and pushing for action from NRW, Dwr Cymru and the County Council to clean up their act.
The judgement by the European Court of Justice ruled that the discharges have broken clean water laws in a special conservation area.
The Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales and Welsh Water said they were investing in improvements.
Welsh Water says it is is investing in a £113m project to reduce the number of spills. They have been working on a ‘RainScape’ project around Llanelli, which involves reducing the amount of water that reaches the sewers through planting green spaces on streets and roofs to absorb rain and building channels to capture surface water.
Long term campaigner for cleaning up the estuary and safeguarding the livelihoods of the cockle pickers Bill Thomas said:
“Carmarthenshire County Council still passes plans for huge numbers of houses. Everyone continues to do what they have always done NOTHING AT ALL.”
Speaking to Llanelli Online today, Thursday (May 25) Nia Griffith said: “Whilst further work is clearly needed to understand the cause of the cockle mortality that we have seen in recent years, the Burry Inlet does enjoy a raft of titles which accord it protected environmental status, and it will come as no surprise to anyone who has read the statistics on sewerage spills into the estuary, or picked their way amongst such filth, that the EU commission has criticised the UK authorities for failing to comply with the relevant directives and refused to accept excuses for this deplorable state of affairs.”
Speaking about the work of Dwr Cymru in recent years Nia Griffith said: “We are very grateful for the investment by Dwr Cymru Welsh Water in improved sewerage facilities and the Rainscape scheme to remove surface water – thus both helping to protect local homes from flooding and reducing the need for spills into the estuary. However, as they have always explained, this work is to tackle the existing problems, not to create capacity for future development. We now need the planning authority, Carmarthenshire County Council, to take the EU judgement seriously, and to take a robust approach to property developers and insist that they contribute significant investment for improving sewerage treatment capacity in return for permission to build: they need to contribute over and above the capacity they need – to create betterment – as spelled out 10 years ago by Welsh Government Environment Minister Jane Davidson AM.”
The Labour candidate is also calling for further investigation into the deaths of the cockles. She said: “We now urgently need more research on the causes of the cockle mortality and I very much hope that the bid for very significant funding to do this is successful, and, in the meantime, we need help for the cockle gatherers who have seen their livelihoods devastated year after year by the cockle mortality.”
Llanelli Online has asked for a statement from Carmarthenshire County Council. Head of Public Protection and Housing, Robin Staines, said: “This issue is largely out of the Council’s remit but we will work with and support the relevant bodies.”
Head of Planning, Llinos Quelch, said: “In relation to building development, each case will be discussed as and when planning applications are submitted.”