Portsmouth resident and Portsmouth Unite Community campaigner Alan Burgess reports on the union’s campaign calling on Southern Water to stop sewage overflows into Langstone Harbour.
As reported extensively in the News, Southern Water has been heavily criticised for pumping sewage into Langstone Harbour. Residents in Hayling Island complained of a major sewage dump in August 2018 following a weekend of heavy rain. Earlier this month, Southern Water confirmed that 378,000 litres of sewage were dumped into the Harbour following an ‘electrical fault’ at its wastewater treatment plant, Budds Farm, in Havant.
This is not an unusual occurrence for the company, which has been fined for similar incidents in Langstone Harbour in the past, including fines of £150,000 in 2011.
It’s fair to say that Southern Water systematically dump sewage every time there is heavy rainfall, when ‘storm water (a mixture of rain and untreated sewage) is discharged directly into Langstone Harbour from several locations’. This has been going on for ten years.
The Environment Agency (the regulator) has regularly imposed fines, not just for incidents at Langstone Harbour, but in other areas of the country. In 2016, Southern Water was fined £2 million at Maidstone crown court for flooding beaches in Kent with raw sewage – the highest fine ever imposed on a UK water company.
However this sanction does not seem to be working as Southern Water simply pay the fines and pass the cost on to the customer. This year, the company was named as the worst performing water supplier in England and Wales for the sixth successive year.
Deputy Council Leader, Steve Pitt, has sent me copies of his letters to Southern Water and the Environment Agency, which reveal that the Leader of Portsmouth City Council, Gerald Vernon Jackson, endorsed Southern Water’s business plan on the 1st August, and requested work is done to stop sewage dumping into Langstone Harbour. Deputy council Leader, Cllr Steve Pitt followed this with a letter to Southern Water requesting ‘…an update on why this dumping of sewage is taking place and whether it is going to be stopped.’
He continued, ‘I would urge you to avoid future discharges and if possible abandon the practice completely.’
Portsmouth Liberal Democrats are also running a petition against discharge of raw sewage into Langstone Harbour but maintains in the text that: ‘Discharging storm water in certain circumstances, to prevent flooding, is understandable.’ The petition then states that ‘the discharge of raw sewage is NOT.’
Ian McCulloch of Portsmouth Green Party said: ‘This is what happens when you have a privatized water company running services for the benefit of its shareholders rather than the community, and not spending enough on the infrastructure we need to keep our coastal waters safe and healthy.
‘The problem is exacerbated by a constant drive to fill Portsea Island with more homes while having no regard for the increased need the occupants will have for services of all kinds. Whether they are utilities, hospitals or schools, they are already stretched to breaking point.’
Meanwhile, it would appear Southern Water is in trouble with Ofwat, the industry regulator. In a statement on its website, Ofwat confirmed it has ‘opened an investigation to consider whether Southern Water has breached its statutory duties and licence obligations, which fall under our remit to enforce. The investigation will look at the performance of its wastewater treatment sites, and the company’s reporting of relevant compliance information to us.’
Ofwat were unable to confirm whether this investigation specifically included storm water discharge affecting Langstone Harbour.
Gerald Vernon Jackson has called on Southern Water to build a new sewer to serve the north of the city and relieve pressure on the existing system but as yet, Southern Water have not issued a detailed response.
Unite Community Portsmouth are calling upon Southern Water to be fully accountable on their planned action for this and to clearly explain their investment strategy to solve this pattern of sewage dumping at Langstone Harbour and protect it as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
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