Council calls for compensation from Southern Water

Hastings council leaders have said they could take legal action against Southern Water, if the company fails to provide a ‘satisfactory response’ to calls for financial compensation.
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The ultimatum came in a report discussed by Hastings Borough Council’s cabinet on Monday (October 2), which covered a series of incidents involving the company within the past two years.

These incidents included the burst main at Bulverhythe in summer 2021, the town centre flooding in January 2023 and the pollution of Old Roar Gill this summer.

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Council leader Paul Barnett said: “Any one of the incidents that have happened in Hastings in the last two years would be a terrible thing in itself. My perception is … they haven’t fixed one of those incidents.

Bulverhythe Road in St Leonards is having work done after the major sewage leak back in February 2023.Bulverhythe Road in St Leonards is having work done after the major sewage leak back in February 2023.
Bulverhythe Road in St Leonards is having work done after the major sewage leak back in February 2023.

“That is what this report tries to set out. You could write a report on each of the incidents and the appalling missteps that Southern Water has taken, each time making the same mistakes: failing to clear up; using inappropriate chemicals; not telling the public what they are doing; telling the council one thing then doing another, then telling us they have changed their mind and then doing something different.

“It is one thing after another every time and it is not as if we haven’t pointed this out to them.”

In the report, which was endorsed by cabinet, officers set out a number of actions the council will ask Southern Water to take, including providing financial compensation to reflect the impact of the infrastructure failures on the town’s economy.

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Other actions the council will be asking the company to take include: providing input to East Sussex County Council Report on January’s town centre flooding; producing a comprehensive plan for the protection of Old Roar Gill; and to continue developing their communications with local residents in conjunction with Hastings Borough Council’s communications team.

The report goes on to say the council will consider taking further steps, including legal action, if the company does not provide a “satisfactory response” to these requests by the end of the year (specifically December 31st).

Cllr Ali Roark, cabinet member for environment, said: “It is important to remember that there are many different teams within Southern Water and there are lots of people who are working hard to provide a good service to our residents.

“But that doesn’t let Southern Water as a company off the hook on the wider and strategic level of long term planning in terms of making sure the risks of pollution and flooding are properly understood by all stakeholders … and in terms of ensuring an adequate response to system failures like those in Old Roar Gill and Bulverhythe.

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“These failings have a real impact for residents and for wildlife and for the council’s resources, because we’ve seen so much officer time taken up in dealing with the aftermath of these incidents.”

The cabinet discussion followed on from several questions from local residents about issues arising from the incidents. These residents included volunteers who have been taking water samples and Rebecca Sinker of the Clean Water Action Group.

There was also some discussion about the quality of the signage erected in Alexandra Park, following this summer’s pollution incident.

Cabinet members said signs had been put up around the reservoirs, warning people against swimming. Residents argued more signs were needed to reflect the true extent of the pollution, including around the stream running through Old Roar Gill itself.

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Cllr Roark said she would review the matter further after the meeting.

Cabinet members also take the opportunity to thank volunteers for their work.

Cllr Andy Batsford said: “It is just absolutely disgusting that there is a company making millions of pounds worth of profit for shareowners, but there are millions of hours being wasted by our volunteers in the town trying to keep up and hold Southern Water to account.

“I just want to say thankyou to all those people … [who] are going out there, doing the testing and making sure we are aware of what is going on and the shortcomings of Southern Water.

“But that shouldn’t be our hobby, that should be a given; clean water being dealt with properly by a multimillion pound company.”