ACTION ON SEWAGE SCANDAL
WHAT I'VE BEEN DOING
Residents, businesses and visitors in Whitstable and across Kent have been appalled at the scandal of raw sewage being dumped off our coast. People are now loathed to walk on our beaches, local businesses that are only just recovering from the pandemic have been affected, and local residents continue to have to put up with unpleasant smells around the pumping station.
It is now clear that the Government have allowed the privatised water companies to treat our rivers and seas as open sewers. However our local water company, Southern Water have been particularly shocking.
Back in May 2021, I was contacted by local residents appalled at Southern Water discharging sewage at Tankerton Beach. I immediately contacted the then Chief Executive calling for urgent action to remedy the situation.
Just one month later, Southern Water were fined £90 million, having pleaded guilty, following a criminal investigation by the Environment Agency into thousands of illegal discharges of sewage which polluted rivers and coastal waters in Kent, Hampshire and Sussex.
In August 2021, I held a public meeting where residents and businesses were able to air frustrations. Following the meeting SOS Whitstable were established who have been absolutely fantastic in their relentless campaigning. Additionally, the Swalecliffe Steering Group was set up to allow residents the opportunity to raise concerns directly with Southern Water.
I have continued to raise the dumping of sewage in Parliament, speaking in the Environment Bill debate in October 2021 on sewage dumping, taking part as a member of the Environment Select Committee in an Inquiry into sewage dumping, and requesting the that the three Secretaries of State for Environment that we have had in the last year visit Whitstable. Unfortunately, none have taken up my offer. In February I again asked Ministers what they were doing to tackle poor performance by the water companies. At the Environment Select Committee in July I asked the Chair of the water regulator OFWAT, why people in Whitstable and across Canterbury Constituency should have any faith in them given that despite the fines imposed on Southern Water, nothing has actually changed. And most recently, I held another meeting with representatives from Southern Water, the Environment Agency, councillors, local experts and businesses to discuss the impact of river and sea pollution on communities, trade, and tourism.
Throughout this period, I have been in contact on behalf of local residents with Southern Water, pushing for more rapid action on sewage discharges. And, last December, along with members of SOS Whitstable I presented a petition at 10 Downing Street, which consisted of over 200,000 concerned members of the public making their feelings known by signing a demand to clean up our rivers and seas and for water companies to be renationalised.
It is clear that the Government has failed to properly regulate the water industry. What’s more, as was made clear from the Environment Select Committee in March 2023 is that the underfunding of the Environment Agency, who are responsible for enforcement, has led to degradation of our rivers and coastal waters. We need a new approach where standards are enforced and water companies are made to invest in infrastructure rather than paying out dividends to shareholders.
I am keen to hear from local residents and businesses about impacts from the ongoing discharge of sewage in Whitstable. Please either contact my office at [email protected] or use the contact form at the bottom of the page.
TIMELINE OF ACTIONS
28 May 2021: Letter sent to Ian MacAulay, then CEO at Southern Water, to ask him to take urgent action to stop sewage discharges at Tankerton Beach. Just over a month later, Southern Water received their £90 million fine.
2 August 2021: Held the first Public Meeting to allow residents and businesses to air frustrations. Led to the community group SOS Whitstable being established, along with the Swalecliffe Steering Group.
31 August 2021: Met with local residents at the Swalecliffe Treatment Works
Early October 2021: Met with two directors of Southern Water; Lawrence Godsen and Toby Willison, and Sally Harvey from the Environment Agency
20 October 2021: Spoke in the Environment Bill debate in favour of the ban on sewage dumping
8 November 2021: Swalecliffe Steering Group meeting
5 November 2021: met with Environment Agency and Southern Water senior staff on 5 November
12 November 2021: Further letter to CEO, outlining main areas where improvement is required.
15 November 2021: Attended Westminster Hall Debate on water companies dumping sewage
19 January 2022: Further letter to CEO, highlighting where communication needed improvement
11 February 2022: Was represented at a Zoom meeting of Southern Water Storm Overflow Taskforce chaired by the CEO
May 2022: Swalecliffe Steering Group conduct follow up meeting
17 May 2022: EFRA Committee discussed raw sewage discharges.
10 August 2022: Held the second Public Meeting.
6 September 2022: Spoke in House of Commons requesting Environment Secretary (George Eustice) visits Canterbury to see the effects
8 September 2022: Wrote to invite the new Environment Secretary (Ranil Jayawardena) to Canterbury.
12 September 2022: Swalecliffe Steering Group held a third meeting
12 October 2022: Rosie and member of team met with Sue Cobb (Southern Water Stakeholder Management Team Member) and Toby Willison (Director of Environment and Corporate Affairs) in Parliament
28 November 2022: Met with Alex Sobel, Shadow Minister for Nature, Flooding and Water, along with SOS Whitstable to ensure our Shadow Frontbench were informed on the situation in Kent
6 December 2022: Raised the issue of sewage discharges with Therese Coffey and invited her to visit Whitstable to see for herself. Coffey felt there was “no need” to visit.
19 December 2022: Presented petition with SOS Whitstable at 10 Downing Street, which consisted of over 200,000 concerned members of the public making their feelings known by signing a demand to clean up our rivers and seas.
21 February 2023: Spoke in urgent question on water company performance.
14 March 2023: At the Environment Select Committee, questioned the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency about whether the current monitoring regime for water companies was adequate.
25 April 2023: Spoke in the Opposition Day Debate on the sewage scandal, highlighting the economic impact that it is having on our visitor economy.
7 June 2023: Met with the Environment Agency to discuss what enforcement action they were taking with Southern Water.
11 July 2023: At the Environment Select Committee, I asked the Chair of the water regulator OFWAT, why people in Whitstable and across Canterbury Constituency should have any faith in them given that despite the fines imposed on Southern Water, nothing has actually changed.
18 August 2023: 18 Appeared on BBC South East news to underline the damage done to the heath of the local population and to local businesses by continued sewage discharges.
20 September 2023: Meeting with Southern Water and the Environment Agency with local businesses to discuss the impact of river and sea pollution on communities, trade, and tourism.
21 September 2023: Meeting with local fishers about how lack of communication from Southern Water is impacting their businesses.
20 October 2023: Met with Southern Water CEO, Lawrence Gosden and engineers on site at Whitstable Sewage Treatment works to see the work they are doing to improve their facilities and reduce polluting events including the far too frequent combined sewage overflows.
GET IN TOUCH
As your MP for Canterbury, I can help constituents on various issues, such as education, the environment, health and social services, highways, transport, and housing.
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