Milton campaigner Kimberly Barrett's deputation against Southern Water's pollution into Langstone Harbour was read out at the full council meeting today (March 16th).
Although I am here to support this motion, it truly is a sad day to see that 2 years down the line from when the previous motion was proposed to this council, that Southern Water still is discharging sewage and waste water into the harbour which causes misery to a number of people who use the harbour and to the plant and animal life that live there.
Langstone Harbour is not just as SSSI, it is also a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and the SAC conservation of Langstone Harbour’s wildlife and habitats is that of a national and international importance. The surrounding land is also classed as Nature reserves and is protected so therefore, it is detrimental to see these discharges keep occurring.
There have been numerous articles over the years in the news and in the Chichester Observer that report the impact of the discharges into the harbour such as the effect of E Coli in the sea beds which forced Oyster Farmers in 2014 to have their oyster fishery temporarily closed. An article this year also points out that a dozen local sailing clubs came together to write to Southern Water to clean up their act after a number of their members have become ill or have had to go through sewage plumes whilst out in the harbour. Furthermore, there have been further articles in the news such as a BBC article this last week that links water pollution to low fertility in some of the shrimp species that live in the harbour. According to Portsmouth University who did this study in Langstone Harbour over the last 10 years, it could result in a population collapse in this area which would have a knock on effect on birds and fish higher up in the food chain. I have attached a photo at the bottom of this deputation that shows a plume of sewage spreading out into the harbour during a discharge in 2020. It does not paint a pretty picture at all.
Southern Water have been fined a number of times however, these fines are surely ineffective as it is us the customers who end up paying that fine. I would rather see the courts make Southern Water pay any fines out of their profits which would hit them where it hurts. In 2019, Southern Water was hit with a record high £126m fine for discharges and was also told off by Ofwat for deliberately misreporting its performance with the Environmental Agency then launching a criminal investigation into the company. £123m of that fine will be paid as a rebate to customers with every customer receiving £61 which will be repaid over 5 years. The chief executive of Ofwat also said that ‘What we found in this case is shocking. In all, it shows the company was being run with scant regard for its responsibilities to society and the environment. It was not just the poor operational performance, but the co-ordinated efforts to hide and deceive customers of the fact that are so troubling’.
Unfortunately, it seems (according to Southern Water) that customers have to make a choice between environmental concerns to stop discharges or significant price rises for sewage services and wide spread disruption if they were to improve the drains and sewers to stop this from happening. In a time where we face an environmental crisis across the planet and knowing that the harm from these discharges is already happening, surely Southern Water should be doing all that they can to improve the existing sewage network. Nobody wants to have sewage coming up through their drains but work needs to be done to ensure that a way is found where discharges no longer happen or are extremely rare that then doesn’t punish the customers with a price hike especially with this pandemic where a number of people have lost their jobs and are in financial hardship.
A few years ago, the Milton forum requested that Southern Water attend a public open forum in Milton as there were huge concerns about the amount of discharges occurring. It is always something that is discussed about at our meetings so therefore, we thought it was valid to ask Southern Water to attend a public forum. They failed to respond or reply to our Chairlady and it took me publicly calling them out on Twitter for them to then acknowledge the request and attend the forum. It should not be the responsibility of members of the public to have to shame Southern Water to try to get them to respond to us asking them to come and explain why there is literal filth washing up on our beaches. Committee members were invited up to Budds Farm to look at the site which was very informative and surprisingly, very interesting and we were promised that there were upgrades being made and that Southern Water were doing all they could to insure that there would be less discharges into the harbour but it seems that that is still yet to happen.
The Langstone Harbour Board committee members have always been hot on this topic and are consistently chasing Southern Water to remind them of their responsibilities. The board met on 19th Feb 2021 and it was noted by the committee that they ‘have always been keen to see improvements in water quality within the harbour’ and that they had provided written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry into Water Quality in Rivers. It was also noted in the meeting on the 11th December that there was a query as to what had happened to the discharge notifications. An action to take away from the meeting was that ‘The Harbour Manager and Environmental Officer calculate the costs associated with dealing with the discharge notifications which might be charged to Southern Water as part of the strategy to engage them in the process of dealing with the charges’. The last discharge that appears on their website is for the 15th of December from Budd’s farm for a resounding 1457 minutes. That is equal to 24 hours and 17 minutes of sewage and waste water being pumped into our harbour which is absolutely appalling.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. I feel that I must mention the actions of Surfers Against Sewage who have been doing fantastic work in trying to clean up the surrounding beaches and getting residents involved in collecting rubbish and plastics washed up on the beaches. Some of the items they have found after a discharge into the harbour has occurred have not been pleasant yet still, even through lockdown, members were still going out and doing their bit to make our beaches safer and cleaner. Also, I feel that I must mention the Hayling Sewage Watch group and Mike Owens who has been tirelessly informing people of the discharges, getting water tested and trying to lobby MP’s to push for Southern Water to take responsibility for the polluted and dirty water. You only have to look at their Facebook group to see how ill people have gotten after swimming or doing sports in these areas which has resulted in ear infections, poorly tummies and much more. Because of Mike, Southern Water have been forced to upgrade their Beachbuoy app (which is supposed to alert users when there has been a storm discharge). It still does not always give accurate locations for the discharge notices and it can also be very slow in uploading said information but it is a step in the right direction and it is because of Mike that this has happened. It is great to see that many organisations, MP’s across our areas, councillors, political parties of all colours, environmental groups and local forums are all getting involved to take Southern Water to task. I would request and agree with the point made about a representative from the Council and the two Portsmouth MP’S being able to attend Alan Mak’s regional forum and would also request that perhaps this also be extended to allowing a single representative from the Forums in Portsmouth, Havant and Chichester being allowed to attend these meetings as well so that we can report back to our forums.
I agree with all of the points made in this motion and request that Southern Water is continued to be held to task by all members of this council and by this government. Otherwise we all face this issue returning over the years with little done by Southern Water other than paying fines every year which does not seem to be a deterrent and it is us as bill payers and the environment who will continue to suffer in this never ending circle of harm to us and our environment.