A CALL has been made to get emergency plans in place to limit the damage to tourism if Burnham beach fails new water quality tests.

Warning signs telling tourists the sea is unfit for bathing could be heading for the resort and concerned residents want measures put in place now ahead of the decision. These include designating a different area of beach as the family play area.

New EU water safety guidelines mean that even though the water quality has not actually changed, a small section of sea off the main beach is in danger of falling foul of the new assessment criteria next year.

Warning signs would have to be installed saying part of the beach in the area between the jetty and the pavilion has not met the criteria.

Cllr Helen Groves said: "This is a big concern. Even if new samples are taken which show the water quality is acceptable now, the fact is that the assessment is done over a few years and we would still probably fail.

"Signs will have to go up saying the bathing water has failed the regulations. We are concerned that people will believe the area is polluted and leave.

"It is just a small section of the seven miles of beach that we have here which is affected. We need a plan now to re-designate the family area and put up positive signs informing people they just need to go further along.”

Cllr Groves added: "I have heard that no real action can be taken to actually improve the water until 2017 which is not soon enough. We need a contingency plan – we are desperately trying to sort this out the best we can."

Burnham Pavilion manager Louise Parkin said: "The water has been like this for the last 20-odd years and the quality is not getting worse but when visitors see these signs they won’t realise that."

Environment Agency bathing water officer for Wessex, Nick Malone, said samples for Burnham beach are being taken regularly over a four-year period from 2012 to 2015 and were improving.

He said: "The results are now just on the cusp of poor and sufficient. The results are very much at the mercy of the weather and the flooding in 2012 had a negative impact and gave the poor results. If we have more regular weather the results could just edge into sufficient so we are optimistic. Other work is also being done on the source of the pollutants."