Video: From the Victorians to the 21st century - Southern Water officially opens its waste water treatment works in Peacehaven

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Southern Water officially opened its new water treatment works at Peacehaven this week with an event attended by Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby on Monday October 14.

The next day they invited the media in to have a nose around, starting off with a tour of the Victorian sewers in Brighton where it all began and taking them slap bang into the 21st century at the state of the art treatment works a few towns up the coast.

Brighton sewers and Peacehaven wastewater plant tours

Brighton sewers and Peacehaven wastewater plant tours

We were led into the Victorian sewer system, built in the 1860s, via an entrance hidden just next to Palace Pier.

After a safety talk, we put on our hard hats complete with light, yellow high visibility vests, green plastic gloves and blue plastic overshoes and entered into Brighton’s spooky subterranean underworld.

Once inside there is a strong and slightly unpleasant odour but this doesn’t last long as we descend into brick built chambers and tunnels.

After the initial pong it doesn’t smell in there at all, just a faint damp musty smell to contend with. But there are rivers of brown sludgy water with suspect items floating through them.

Southern Water’s press team are keen to push the message that people should stop putting things down the drains which will clog up the sewer system.

It adds money to their bill so Southern Water can clean blockages, but also causes customers more financial heartache when their own drains get blocked up and require the expensive services of a plumber.

The main culprit for blockages is cooking fat, as well as baby wipes and nappies.

Once the cooking fat cools down it solidifies, while the baby wipes and nappies wrap around objects and even trip up Southern Water engineers when they’re walking through the sewer system, causing them to fall into the murky water and go under.

But that’s not all they’ve found down there – stuffed toys have made it into the sewer and one of the Sewer Tour Guides, Stuart Slark, proudly shows us a 17th century gold ring, inset with a diamond and engraved on the inside, which he found in the slime.

Our tour takes us past Harry Ramsdens’ fish and chips restaurant and pops us out next to Valley Gardens, much to the surprise of the people walking by.

Next we are off on the coach to the waste water treatment works at Peacehaven, passing along the route of the pipe which transports Brighton and Hove’s waste to be cleaned.

Waste water from Peacehaven, Telscombe and Saltdean is also sanitised here.

Comparing the Victorian sewers, which bring to mind a Gothic horror novel, with the new plant makes for an interesting contrast.

Approaching from Brighton you don’t notice the plant until you’re next to it.

Much of the facility has been sunk down into the earth and it is topped with a grass roof, planted with grasses found on the South Downs. The grass roof is the size of three football pitches and is one of the largest in Europe.

We are taken around the facility, shown how the various stages of the cleaning process work.

Inside it is clean and modern, with its grey concrete walls and floors and gleaming metal structures.

During its construction hundreds of people worked to build the plant and the tunnel to bring the effluent to its final destination.

Once the water is cleaned it is pumped out to sea.

The solids which are extracted, which include mud and faeces, and are interestingly called ‘cake’ in the trade, are sold as fertiliser, mostly to a local farmer.

The plant produces about three quarters of its own energy from methane gas which is emitted during the cleaning process.

Once on top of the grass roof we look out on to the residents of Peacehaven, who vehemently opposed the construction of this facility.

Southern Water were at pains to point out that every effort had been made to make sure the plant fitted in with the natural landscape. Around us there is evidence of tree and shrub planting.

The water company has been running tours for residents for some months now, in a bid to open up their doors to the community.

Since its creation, the £300m development has won numerous awards.

The company’s largest ever project includes 11km of new sewer tunnel, two pumping stations, a wastewater treatment works and a 2.5km long sea outfall.

The scheme ensures that the 95 million litres of wastewater produced each day by people in Peacehaven, Telscombe Cliffs, Saltdean, Rottingdean, Ovingdean and Brighton and Hove is treated to EU standards.

MP for Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven Simon Kirby was among guests taken on a tour of the Peacehaven works to mark the opening.

He said: “This project is a remarkable feat of engineering. Peacehaven is a quarter of my constituency and I’m pleased that Southern Water has recognised the strong sense of community here.

“The company has worked with the councillors, with me as MP and with the residents to make sure that during the construction of this engineering achievement, the intrusion has been minimised.

“So thank you Southern Water, this is an important new facility with cutting edge 21st century technology.”

At Peacehaven alone,

more than one million cubic metres of earth was moved,

all of which was reused on

site as part of the exten-

sive landscaping.

The treatment works covers just one third of the construction site, the rest having been returned to agricultural land and a new park for the community.

Other guests included Margaret Paren, Chairman of the Southern Downs National Park Authority, who described the new treatment works as a “fantastic facility” and particularly praised the use of downland grass on the roof.

She said: “What really impresses me is not only have you moulded it into the landscape, you have also moulded it into the biodiversity of the South Downs.”

Southern Water’s project manager for the scheme, Richard Hodgson, said: “There is an immense sense of achievement and pride on site. “Our plans to bring cleaner seas to Sussex have been some 16 years in the making so it is fantastic to stand here today and see them finally brought to life.

“This has been a major engineering operation and is the largest ever project that Southern Water has undertaken. Construction took four years and I must thank the communities in which we have worked for their patience and support over that time.

“Thanks must also go to everyone who has worked on this scheme, whether in its planning, design, construction or operation. The team, including everyone who works for our supplier 4Delivery and the various specialist sub-contractors brought in, has been superb and helped deliver our biggest ever scheme on time and on budget.”

Last week, the scheme was named Major Civil Engineering Project of the Year at the British Construction Industry Awards, beating other entries including The London 2012 Olympic Park Project.

How do you feel about the Peacehaven waste water treatment works? Email samantha.clark@jpress.co.uk