Adur and Worthing Councils demand action from Environment Agency over Southern Water's 'pollution and infrastructure failures’
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Adur & Worthing Councils joined more than 20 local authorities from across the South East in writing to Therese Coffey – the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – as part of their campaign ‘to hold the water company responsible for pollution and infrastructure failures’.
The local authorities, who together have formed the Southern Water Stakeholder Group, met last week with representatives from the Environment Agency – the regulator for water quality and the ecological health of rivers and coastal waters and which manages the risk of flooding.
Steve Neocleous, Adur’s cabinet member for regeneration and strategic planning, said: “Working with our colleagues in councils across the south coast, we’ve joined forces with other representatives who are fed up with this water company calling the shots on our coastline. We hope that, by working together, we can really start to put some pressure on Southern Water.
“In Adur, as our housing stock grows to meet local need, it’s clear that we in turn need a responsible water provider who will provide suitable, adequate infrastructure.”
Vicki Wells, Worthing’s cabinet member for the environment, said: "The Southern Water Stakeholder Group of local authorities is united to ensure Southern Water prioritise improvements across the region.
“In Worthing we meet regularly with Southern Water to follow up their ongoing misconnections work. This is crucial to identify potential sources of sewage contamination into the surface drainage system which we know is an historic and ongoing problem.
“The issue of storm overflows requires significant action to help reduce excess water overwhelming the local sewage system. It is more important than ever for Southern Water to invest in sewage infrastructure and local projects with the council to tackle this issue.”
Southern Water declined to comment but pointed towards previous statements, focused on its turnaround plan and investment of £3bn between 2020-2025.
Water minister Rebecca Pow met with Southern Water on Wednesday (November 8) to discuss the company’s performance.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We have been clear that volume of sewage being discharged into our waters is utterly unacceptable. Through our Plan for Water, we are delivering more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement to improve our water system now and into the future.
“We are also scrapping the cap on civil penalties and have set stringent targets for water companies, including Southern Water, to reduce storm overflows and the Environment Agency has launched the largest criminal investigation ever into potential non-compliance at wastewater treatment works.
"Over the latest three-year spending review period, the Environment Agency has received £2.2 million each year specifically for water company enforcement to ensure that robust action is taken against illegal breaches of storm overflow permits.”
Simon Moody, the Environment Agency’s area director for Solent and South Downs, told the group the organisation is holding water companies, including Southern Water, to account to reduce pollution, tackle storm overflows and invest more of their profits into the environment.
A spokesperson for Adur and Worthing Councils said: “Whilst local authorities don't have the power to directly regulate Southern Water, by working together as the Southern Water Stakeholder Group they hope that they can apply enough pressure to force the company to address its list of local failings.
"In Worthing, monitoring water quality is a key focus. Identifying and eliminating all sources of pollution locally supports the national demand to see a halt of combined sewer overflow discharges into the sea, impacting human health and threatening marine ecosystems.
“Seawater in Adur faces similar threats, along with concerns about how the sewage infrastructure is coping with new developments in the area.”
Last week’s meeting follows action by both Adur District Council and Worthing Borough Council to ‘demand the water company prevent pollution damaging the shoreline’.
In Adur, the council is ‘demanding that the water company invest in its infrastructure’ to ‘prevent sewage discharges into the sea’.
The council added: “The growth of new developments, in particular around Shoreham, is putting extra pressure on a local sewage system that is struggling to cope with demand.”
In Worthing, the council submitted applications for two new bathing water designations last week to Defra.
"The first is opposite Beach House Grounds and the second at Goring Gap,” a spokesperson said.
“If successful, these areas will join the existing stretch off Heene Road to receive regular testing for bacteria by the Environment Agency. This will help identify the sources of bacterial pollution, holding those responsible to account.”