Lewes councillors call for action from Southern Water to reduce pollution of district’s waterways

Lewes councillors have backed a motion calling for action against the pollution of the district’s waterways. 

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 3:08 pm
The Ouse as it runs through Lewes

On Monday (September 20), Lewes District Council passed a motion which will see the authority call on Southern Water to say how it will put a stop to illegal discharges of raw sewage in the district. 

The motion, from Green Party councillor Matthew Bird and Labour’s Laurece O’Connor, will also see the council call on the Environment Agency to reverse its recent decision on sewage discharges.

 Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Bird, who is also the council’s cabinet member for sustainability, said he hoped Southern Water would lay out its plans to safeguard the River Ouse, its tributaries and the coastal waters of the Lewes district.

He said: “Southern Water was fined £90 million for the illegal and deliberate discharge of billions of litres of raw sewage into the sea off Sussex, Kent and Hampshire and £126 million for not operating a number of wastewater treatment works properly. 

“We’ve now seen data that shows over 600 sewage overspills occurred in Lewes district in 2020. 

 “It’s a shocking track record, yet the new chief executive has been awarded a £550,000 bonus. “

He added: “We are in the middle of a climate and ecological emergency and Southern Water’s failure to reinvest in its infrastructure and ensure that it is resilient to climate change threatens us all.”

As a result of the motion, council leader Zoe Nicholson will write to the chief executive of Southern Water with a series of questions about sewage leaks in Lewes district and what assurances he can give about work he is doing to prevent them. 

Cllr Nicholson will also ask the Environment Agency to reverse its decision to introduce a waiver allowing water companies to avoid having to go through the third stage in the treatment of sewage if the company does not have the right chemicals due to driver shortages. 

When approached by the LDRS, a spokesperson for Southern Water said the company saw the motion as ‘an opportunity’ to engage with the council.

Dr Toby Willison, Southern Water’s director of environment and corporate affairs, said: “We know we must work hard to rebuild trust with the people of Lewes and we have a duty to show how we are improving our performance. 

“This motion from the council is an opportunity to do that. We would be delighted to meet with councillors to talk in more detail about our plans and investment. 

“With recent new investment we are spending £2 billion across the South East in the next four years to improve our water and wastewater networks which will build our resilience in response to the twin challenges of population growth and climate change.

 “This includes £800 million in environmental projects tackling key issues such as water quality by preventing phosphates and nitrates impacting water courses.

“We are investing £31 million over the next four years in the Lewes area.

“We know we need to do more to reduce the use of storm releases and we’ve been modelling techniques to reduce the amount of rainwater and roof and road run-off that enters the sewer network. 

“We believe it could be possible to reduce the number of storm releases by 80 per cent over ten years, while still protecting homes and businesses from flooding.

“It’s important to remember that protection of the environment is a multi-agency challenge and any solution will require major investment and partnership working with government at all levels, developers, NGOs and others to ensure we have sustainable drainage and water efficiency in our plans and developments in future.