Hastings and Bexhill MPs call for Southern Water and Environment Agency to 'take further action' to clean up bathing waters in area

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Water bosses have been urged to do more to clean up bathing waters in Hastings and Bexhill.

MPs Sally-Ann Hart and Huw Merriman recently met with Southern Water’s chief executive and the Environment Agency’s area director calling for them to take further action.

The meeting follows on from a number of sewage leaks that have taken place in the area over the last year.

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A major leak took place in the Bulverhythe area of St Leonards on October 18 last year, affecting homes and industrial units in the Bridgeway Industrial Estate.

Huw Merriman MP, Sally-Ann Hart MP, Lawrence Gosden CEO of Southern Water and representatives from the Environment Agency and Southern WaterHuw Merriman MP, Sally-Ann Hart MP, Lawrence Gosden CEO of Southern Water and representatives from the Environment Agency and Southern Water
Huw Merriman MP, Sally-Ann Hart MP, Lawrence Gosden CEO of Southern Water and representatives from the Environment Agency and Southern Water

A similar leak happened there in February 2023, with around 20 homes and businesses flooded.

Major multi-million pound works with the aim of preventing the area from suffering future sewage leaks are nearing completion, Southern Water said, and a sewer in the area, which was prone to bursting was permanently turned off in February.

This week it was also revealed that sewage spills into England's rivers and seas by water companies more than doubled last year. According to the Environment Agency there were 3.6 million hours of spills, compared to 1.75 million hours in 2022, as reported by the BBC.

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At the recent meeting, Mrs Hart, MP for Hastings and Rye, and Mr Merriman, Bexhill and Battle MP, called on Southern Water and the Environment Agency provide accurate information on sewage releases and for real-time data on water quality to be made available to the public.

The MPs also asked for an update on Southern Water’s ‘Pathfinder’ plans to accelerate a reduction in the use of storm overflows across the South East.

The Pathfinder projects aim to remove surface water from the mains sewers to prevent overloading the system, reduce Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) releases and to achieve the targets set out in the Government’s Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan.

An early Pathfinder trial project on the Isle of Wight reduced CSO releases by more than 70 per cent, the MPs said, and asked for similar Pathfinder projects to be expedited in their constituencies.

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Mr Merriman said he has been pressing both Southern Water and the Environment Agency to carry out more widespread water quality testing and research to establish the causes of pollution which led to Bexhill bathing waters being graded only ‘sufficient’, compared to neighbouring beaches in Hastings and St Leonards.

Southern Water has carried out regular water testing at several beach locations and inland streams in Bexhill to monitor water quality and identify pollutants since last summer and the company shared the results with the MP, he said.

The firm also talked about its ongoing work to identify sources of inland waterways pollution.

Mrs Hart said she asked Southern Water to provide an update on its work to improve sewerage system resilience and its collaborative work with the local flood authority to help prevent further flooding of Hastings town centre, which took place in January and October last year.

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Southern Water provided an update on its £1.5bn Clean Rivers and Seas Plan for 2025-2035.

The company said the first phase of this plan will be delivered between 2025 and 2030 and will see an investment of £700 million to focus on areas such as shellfish and bathing waters, and environmentally sensitive sites. Southern Water confirmed that Hastings and Bexhill will be part of the first phase.

Mr Merriman said: “I am pleased to see that Bexhill will be in Southern Water’s first phase of their investment plans to tackle CSO releases and improve bathing water quality, it is right that our area should be prioritised.

“Clean seas and safe bathing water are essential for our marine life, residents, visitors, and businesses. It was good to see real progress being made with their ongoing investigations into water quality and water testing which is something I asked for. This will provide far more detailed and accurate information as to the cleanliness of the sea and local watercourses. With this data, work can be better targeted at dealing with sources of pollution.

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“I was also encouraged that the Environment Agency and Southern Water are exploring a project to install digital bathing water quality signage on Bexhill beach. This means residents and visitors would be able to see real-time data of water quality and be confident that the sea is safe when visiting the beach.”

Mrs Hart said: “Huw and I meet regularly with Southern Water and our latest meeting with Lawrence Gosden and members of his team, as well as representatives from the Environment Agency, was to discuss the steps that are being taken to improve our local water quality and reduce CSO releases, as well as Southern Water’s ambitious five-year business plan.

“Southern Water have announced major investment between 2025 and 2030 and it is important that they are held to account in the delivery of this.”

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