Dell Quay is the venue for Radio 5 Live’s national sewage debate

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Listeners from across the UK tuned in to listen to a three-hour discussion held at Chichester Harbour’s Dell Quay on Monday on the state of the nation’s water.

Dell Quay Sailing Club hosted Radio 5’s Drive Time show as its presenters talked to water quality experts, Southern Water, water sport athletes and recreational water users about the state of the harbour.

Whilst the show’s presenters praised the stunning scenery around the harbour, they reminded listeners that the sailing club is located yards from the main sewage treatment plant for Chichester District, at Apuldram.

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Professor Alex Ford, professor of marine biology at Portsmouth University, appeared on the three-hour show to answer any questions raised by listeners. Professor Ford heads up a major study into the pollution in Langstone and Chichester Harbours from treated and untreated sewage. Project Spotlight, commissioned by the Clean Harbours Partnership and part funded by the area’s sailing clubs and SOSCA (Save our South Coast Alliance), has revealed a vast array of chemicals and drugs washed into the water daily.

view from Dell Quayview from Dell Quay
view from Dell Quay

Speaking on the programme, Professor Ford suggested that the only way forward now was for the next government to undertake a major review of the entire water industry, preferably through a public inquiry, examining how it operates and how it is regulated.

Nick Mills, spokesman for Southern Water, claimed that the problem was increasing awareness, rather than increasing pollution, and that government regulation allows water companies to discharge untreated wastewater into harbours, rivers and the sea. He admitted that the number of spills of untreated wastewater in the area was not acceptable but pointed out the company had new investors, that dividends had not been paid out since 2017 and that the company was ‘pouring a lot of money’ into upgrading its treatment works.

Local sailors and swimmers told listeners that they were increasingly anxious about the water quality especially in the winter months or after heavy rainfall. Professor Ford pointed out that untreated wastewater releases were also being recorded during dry weather, which under previous legislation had been disallowed.

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Jess Brown-Fuller, Chichester’s Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate, agreed with Professor Ford that a new approach was needed into how Britain’s water companies operate and are regulated.

“Unfortunately, it has taken greater awareness and destruction of our natural water environment to spur the water companies and the government into action,” she said, adding that “it is too little, too late. Only last week the government voted to reduce the powers of regulators to act against the companies they regulate in a new ‘growth duty’ protecting profits over pollution, ” she said.