Southern Water unveils £1.5bn investment plan

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Southern Water has revealed plans to invest a record £1.5 billion to reduce storm overflows.

The company has today (November 16) published its Clean Rivers and Seas Plan, outlining proposals – ‘underpinned’ by £1.5 billion investment between 2025-2035 – to ‘get to the root cause’ of storm overflows across the region.

Storm overflows are ‘part of the design’ of the combined sewer network – which captures both rainwater and wastewater.

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A spokesperson added: "These emergency outlets are the last line of defence to stop homes and communities flooding when the sewer system becomes overwhelmed by large volumes of rain or groundwater entering the network – something we’re seeing more frequently due to erratic weather caused by climate change.

Southern Water’s headquarters in Yeoman Road, Worthing. Photo: Google Street ViewSouthern Water’s headquarters in Yeoman Road, Worthing. Photo: Google Street View
Southern Water’s headquarters in Yeoman Road, Worthing. Photo: Google Street View

“Between 2025 and 2035 we’re planning to invest a record £1.5 billion to get to the root cause of storm overflows.

“Phase one will be delivered between 2025 and 2030 and will see a total investment of £700 million to focus on areas such as shellfish and bathing waters, and environmentally sensitive sites.”

As much as £74 million of this will be invested at Chichester Wastewater Treatment Works and across Chichester – ‘building on the £72 million already invested’.

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By 2030, 50 per cent of high priority overflows will meet government targets, reducing spills by 3,000 a year, Southern Water said.

It added that, by 2035, 75 per cent of high priority overflows will meet government aims, reducing spills by 8,000 a year – and, by 2050, ‘100 per cent will meet these targets’.

A spokesperson added: “This approach has been illustrated by an interactive map, allowing people to click on individual outfalls to see exactly what Southern Water is doing to reduce overflows in their area.

“Customers are invited to give feedback on the plan before it is finalised.”

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Southern Water said that, out of almost 1,000 storm overflows in our region, 50 per cent of these are ‘already hitting the government’s 2050 targets’ – releasing ‘ten times or less a year’.

"This new plan will be the blueprint for how we’ll address the remaining overflows,” the company claimed.

“The results are already astonishing – a staggering 70 per cent reduction in spills at the nearest storm outfall on the Isle of Wight after we introduced water butts to most of the houses on a nearby street. These ‘pathfinder’ projects show that we’re on the right track.”

In Chichester, Southern Water said it plans to create 17 hectares of wetland, ‘providing a natural solution’ to remove nitrates and phosphates from wastewater and improving biodiversity, following the ‘successful installation’ of a wetland at Lavant Wastewater Treatment Works earlier this year.

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Lawrence Gosden, CEO of Southern Water, said: “I’ve heard our customers’ concerns, and we take our impact on the environment seriously. We have a long-term strategy to 2050 that will restore and protect our regions’ rivers and coastal habitats and a large part of that will be to get to the root cause of storm overflows.

“We cannot simply switch storm overflows off. But by implementing this Clean Rivers and Seas Plan and tackling the root cause, slowing the flow of rainwater going into the combined sewer, whilst increasing capacity of our network, we can reduce their use.

“Collaboration is key, and we cannot achieve the results needed alone. That is why we are calling on our customers and local authorities to work with us and adopt solutions like water butts or sustainable drainage systems, to channel rainwater safely and slowly back into the environment. Together, we can go faster and further, protecting our communities and our environment.”

Southern Water said the company ‘understand our customers want to see change now’ but stressed it is facing ‘tough choices in striking a balance’ between environmental protection and minimising the impact on bills for customers.

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"Although customers will notice the impact reflected in their bills, the average water bill is one of the lowest household bill,” a spokesperson said.

"Some of the work will take a long time, but we are committed to investing the time and expertise to go as quickly as possible.

"This is why we are asking our customers for their feedback on our Clean Rivers and Seas Plan via so they can tell us if they agree with how we are prioritising overflows in our region before we agree it with Ofwat, our regulator.”