Labour councillors yesterday called on Adur Council to hold urgent talks with Southern Water to stop sewage being poured into the river Adur, threatening local people’s health.
The proposal came from councillors Catherine Arnold and Jeremy Gardner.
Jeremy Gardner told Adur and Worthing Council’s joint strategic committee: “What we are talking about here is raw sewage going into the river Adur and water quality warnings on our beaches. It’s not a rare event – nine times this year so far, five times in October alone. We talk about the health and well-being benefits to local people of our green spaces and of the coast and the river. There are health benefits – but only if the water does not include harmful bacteria and raw sewage.
“It’s a health and well-being issue, and it’s one that we as a council should be taking action on urgently. And it’s a food chain and business issue” he said.
Jeremy told the committee that raw sewage had gone into the Adur from a sewer outfall at the Ropetackle for more than five hours in October, in four separate incidents.
“On October 5 it was open for two hours and was closed 15 minutes before the tide began to turn. Much of that sewage will not have gone very far before the incoming tide pushed it back to the Ropetackle and beyond.
“Perhaps we are lucky that this took place on Tuesday because Saturday was a lovely day. The water was buzzing with activity. Close to the Ropetackle outlet people were paddle-boarding, kayaking, canoeing; there was a large group of yachts doing circuits between the railway bridge and the toll bridge. It looked idyllic! And a group of young people, maybe 200 metres from the Ropetackle were jumping into the water and swimming. I think they thought they were being daring doing the jump when it was the swimming in that water that endangered them more.
“The Adur and Worthing website lists seven visitor attractions on the river within half a mile of the Ropetackle outfall. This sewage is a threat to health, it could affect visitor numbers and our economy.
“The sewage from the Ropetackle and sometimes the Southwick outfall results in water quality warnings at other places that are vital for our families and their health – our beaches at Lancing, Shoreham and Southwick.
“I also ask is human faeces helpful to kelp? Does it help the Sussex Bay project?”
The motion asked the council to hold a meeting with Southern Water and to make representations to the local MP to push for more power and resources for the regulators.
Jeremy criticised the Government’s amendment to the Environment Bill, passed on Monday. This requires a “progressive reduction in the adverse impact of discharges from… storm overflows” and included no targets or timescale, but he suggested that this should be on the agenda for a meeting with Southern Water. “Let’s ask Southern Water what they are going to do and when they are going to do it, here in Adur.”
He said the largest shareholder in Southern Water, Macquarie, an Australian asset management company, was promising investment. “It says that by 2025 by it will have upgraded half the sewage networks. I think we need to ensure that they stick to their word – and that much-needed work to improve the infrastructure takes place here in Adur within four years. If we do not press for urgent action here, we may be at the back of the queue and see nothing happening here for four years – nothing except for increasing quantities of sewage sloshing up and down the Adur.”
He said: “Some people have defended the practice of opening the outfalls – they say it has to be done when there is heavy rain because the alternative is to flood homes. Here in Adur we are experiencing more, heavier rain storms, and that will continue as the climate changes. We need to make sure action is taken to improve our infrastructure so that it can cope. We need to question and challenge Southern Water and call for urgent action. It is an emergency. We have a sewage emergency; we have a climate emergency.”
The Conservative-run joint strategic committee did not support the motion, but said there would be a meeting of the council’s joint overview and scrutiny next year with a Southern Water representative present.
Labour does not consider that the urgent action we need.
This Council notes that
This summer Southern Water (SW) was fined a record £90m for deliberately dumping between 16 billion and 21 billion litres of raw sewage into the seas and rivers of Kent, Hampshire and Sussex (including Chichester Harbour) between 2010 and 2015
The judge summed up “each of the 51 offences seen in isolation shows a shocking and wholesale disregard for the environment, for the precious and delicate ecosystems along the North Kent and Solent coastlines, for human health, and for the fisheries and other legitimate businesses that depend on the vitality of the coastal waters”
This criminal activity has put the health of residents and visitors to Adur and Worthing at risk through the contamination of the seas of the Sussex coastline and contamination of local sea food, damaged the reputation of local beaches and the local environment and threatens local businesses, particularly the Shoreham Port Authority and anyone involved with the harvesting of sea food.
Just days after the £90m fine Peacehaven treatment works carried out an “emergency arrangements release” of raw sewage into the sea after a build-up of disposable items. Let us also not forget of late, the forced closure of beaches from Lancing to Ferring for six days.
Furthermore, raw sewage threatens the council’s seabed lease initiative to boost marine conservation and to help in the council’s bid towards carbon neutrality by 2030.
The water industry has accumulated debts of £48billion since 1989 which cost £1.3billion in annual interest. In that time the industry has paid £57billion in shareholder dividends, while customer bills have increased by 40% above inflation.
It further notes that
A number of incidents have taken place during the summer along the Adur and Worthing coast involving the release of raw sewage which emphasise the need for urgent investment in the area’s wastewater treatment facilities.
The Council resolves to:
Write to the Chief Executive and Director of the Environment at SW insisting that they meet with the Council to account for the impact of SW’s behaviour on local communities, to give a clear picture of the current inadequacies of the waste water infrastructure servicing in West Sussex and to lay out their plans for how they will remedy the situation…demanding that Southern Water make the investment needed to:
- ensure that local water treatment works are functioning legally and safely and that our rivers, streams and shoreline are not affected by serious pollution incidents in the future
- improve the capacity and effectiveness of the local waste water infrastructure so that sewage is not discharged into the River Adur and the sea
Write to local MP’s and the Department of the Environment asking for:
- The Environment Agency be given more power and resources to fine water companies, acting as an incentive to radically invest in their water treatment plants
- That fine income be used to support improvements in the regulatory arrangements for water companies and to provide compensation to local authorities and local businesses that have suffered from the criminal activities of SW.
- That the current management arrangements for the water industry are revised so that private companies like SW cannot secretly pursue criminal activities over many years in order to avoid financial penalties and the cost of upgrading infrastructure.