Locations of sewage works near Barcombe Mills swimming spot withheld – due to ‘national security concerns’

Southern Water has refused to reveal the locations of its wastewater treatment works to a resident concerned about water quality at a swimming spot near Lewes, citing ‘national security concerns’.

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 5:20 pm
Enjoying Barcombe Mills swimming spot
Enjoying Barcombe Mills swimming spot

Barcombe resident Roger Nutkins said the response to his enquiry was ‘completely absurd’, adding: “I think it very unlikely that China or Russia are particularly interested in sewage outfall locations in the River Ouse.”

Mr Nutkins had hoped to get a map from the water company showing all the nearby sewage works and any outfall pipes that enter the river upstream of the popular swimming spot at Barcombe Mills.

Water companies are permitted to discharge sewage into rivers or the sea via stormwater outfalls after heavy rainfall, in order to prevent it backing up into homes and streets.

But residents have raised concerns about the safety of the water.

Mr Nutkins said he was ‘pretty appalled’ when he heard sewage was sometimes discharged near Barcombe Mills.

“If people go swimming there, right at the point where they are doing the discharge, that’s actually pretty dangerous,” he said.

He and his family spent a lot of time at the swimming spot last year.

“On a hot summer’s day, there could be 50 or 60 people on the banks there, with more than 20 or 30 swimming or paddle boarding,” he said.

“It’s a place where families go to take their children to swim in the river.”

To investigate further, he asked Southern Water to reveal exactly where the wastewater works were located.

But in a letter seen by this newspaper, the company said it was exempt from releasing the information under regulation 12(5)(a) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 as ‘disclosing this information would adversely affect national security and public safety’.

“Southern Water seeks in general to prevent the location of our wastewater treatment works, our final effluent pipes and outfall locations from being released into the public domain,” the letter stated.

“This is partly because the pipes are technically sewers and people have a right to connect to them.”

Instead, the company gave Mr Nutkins a list of all sites with active outfalls within a 5km radius of the swimming area.

It said the nearest upstream site, named ‘Barcombe New Water Treatment Works’, was located 2,800m away – something Mr Nutkins disputes, claiming: “There is a sewage works very nearby with an outfall about 200m upstream of the swimming area.

“I have seen this outfall and it can also be seen on Google maps.”

All of the other sites are downstream of the swimming spot, according to Southern Water, with the nearest being the ‘Barcombe Church WTW’ at 1,200m away and the ‘Smallholdings Ringmer WTW’ at 1,300m away.

Mr Nutkins wants Southern Water to install an automated pollution measuring device in the water at Barcombe Mills, so that swimmers can see if it is safe to swim or not.

A spokesman for Southern Water said: “We have monitoring equipment installed on 98 per cent of our storm overflows – well above the industry average.

“Storm releases are made to protect homes and businesses from flooding.

“Our Beachbuoy service now notifies recreational water users of any storm releases around all of the 83 designated bathing waters in our region.

“At present river water is not covered – no inland waters in our region are designated as bathing waters.

“We are currently considering the level of demand to extend the Beachbuoy scheme to cover inland waters where we have CSOs.

“It is important to understand storm overflows are only a fraction of the potential sources of impact on rivers – agriculture and industry are very significant in this regard and we would extend Beachbuoy for information only.”