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The plastic fence cordoning off the affected area of Bulverhythe beach has not been properly maintained.

No sign of clean-up plan for Bulverhythe beach

Seven weeks after the sewage leak at Bulverhythe beach occurred, there is still no plan for cleaning the contaminated area, nor are Southern Water and Natural England, which has to approve any plan, showing any urgency in tackling the matter. The question of compensation for affected beach hut owners has yet to be decided. Nick Terdre reports.

At the height of the summer season, when after lengthy periods of lockdown beach hut owners on Bulverhythe beach might have expected to be enjoying their seasdide facilities, the area of beach contaminated by the leak of raw sewage from a Southern Water pipe remains uncleaned apart from an initial wash-down in the immediate aftermath of the event.

The water company told HOT it has been unable to perform a further clean-up as it requires the approval of Natural England, the government agency charged with protecting the country’s flora and fauna, which it said was concerned about possible damage to plant life in the area.

“We are working with Southern Water, the Environment Agency and Hastings Borough Council to ensure that pollution clean-up measures at Bulverhythe do not cause any further harm to the natural environment,” a Natural England spokesperson told HOT.

“Water companies have a legal duty to avoid pollution and must act quickly to reduce any damage that happens as a result of their activities,” the spokesperson said, but it appears that rapid action in the public interest does not form part of Natural England’s remit – when asked when something would be done, and whether the agency recognised some responsibility towards the public, instead of answering the questions the media officer merely referred back to the statements above.

Detritus from the sewage leak, such as tampons and wipes, remains in full view on the shingle (photo: Cath Tajima-Powell).

Wipes and tampons

Southern Water has also not been able to give any indication of when a clean-up plan will be agreed or implemented. Meanwhile sewage, including wipes and tampons, along with dried sewage crust, lies on the shingle in full view, as documented by Cath Tajima-Powell, who owns a small fishing hut in the affected area.

“But the plant life is thriving on the sewage, and looking all green and perky, while hundreds of tomato plants, presumably from seeds contained in the sewage, have sprouted,” she said. At times, however, there had also been thick clouds of flies hovering above the shingle, presumably from larvae nurtured on the sewage.

The affected area of beach remains cordoned off, according to Southern Water, but the cordon has not been properly maintained and much of it lies on the ground. There are no notices to tell the public what it is there for.

Tajima-Powell sent three emails to a complaints address provided by the water company, but received no reply. Eventually, when her emails were forwarded to Southern Water by the council, Richard Bagwell, the company’s stakeholder manager, responded but did not, she told HOT, engage with most of her questions.

She has now been in touch with MP Sally-Ann Hart who has said she is willing to take up the matter with the Southern Water CEO Ian MaAulay, an offer Tajima-Powell has accepted.

Tomato plants sprouting from the shingle (photo: Cath Tajima-Powell).

The initial leak from the sewage pipe which runs under the cyclepath/walkway between the upper and lower rows of beach huts at Bulverhythe took place on Wednesday 28 July. A second discharge followed on Friday 30 July – following a period of heavy rain, the decision was taken to allow this to happen because the capacity for transferring sewage into tankers was insufficient and restricting the flow through the pipe would have created back-pressure and the risk of homes upstream becoming flooded with sewage.

Insurance

Southern Water is now addressing the insurance situation, and has a loss adjuster liaising with hut owners to assess its responsibility for making good the damage caused. “We want to put beach hut owners back in the position where they were before the leak,” said a spokesman.

The 20 huts adjudged to have been affected by the leak have been sanitised inside and out and to the satisfaction  of the loss adjuster. Bacteria readings taken internally and externally indicated that safe levels had been reached, Andrew Chaplin of Sedgwick International UK wrote to one of the beach hut owners in early September.

He also reported that an inspection by a surveyor showed no sign of any structural damage to any of the huts. Loss of amenity was under discussion with Southern Water and would be “covered off” when proposals had been prepared to put to each of the affected owners, he wrote in a later communication.

The question of compensation for affected owners would have been discussed at the AGM of the West of Haven Beach Huts Association on 5 September but before this agenda item was reached one of those present was taken ill and the meeting had to be prematurely ended. According to one member, in addition to the lengthy loss of amenity, the value of the properties might have been reduced.

Severe reservations

In a statement issued on 20 August, HBC said it would write to the government and the local MP to express “severe reservations about Southern Water’s performance” and require the company to commit to a “correct methodology for the ongoing clean up at Bulverhythe, as agreed with both Natural England and the council.” It added that it was working with the Environment Agency to “assess the damage caused by the leak and to establish clear culpability.”

It further wanted “urgent and serious consideration [to be] given to returning the national water supply and drainage infrastructure to not for profit public ownership.”

The Environment Agency told HOT it was still investigating the leak, with “all enforcement options under constant review”.

Record fine

In early July, following a prosecution brought by the agency, Southern Water was fined a record £90m for deliberately discharging billions of litres of raw sewage into the sea.

Following the Bulverhythe leak, Hastings & St Leonards Clean Water Action organised a demonstration against the company on the St Leonards beach, where a large crowd waved banners proclaiming, “Clean up your shit, Southern Water!”

Photo: Chloe Dewe Mathews.

In response to the protest, Southern Water said, “We are committed to improving our environmental performance. We are spending £2bn in the next four years on improving our pipes, pumping stations and sewers which is good for our customers, for the environment and the local economy.”

Further concerns about Southern Water were prompted when Macquarie Asset Management, part of Australia’s Macquarie Group, announced in August that it had agreed to take a majority stake in the company, investing over £1bn. Recapitalising the company would allow it to invest in fixing faulty pipes, pumping stations and sewers, Macquarie said.

However, critics recalled the company’s time as a shareholder in Thames Water, when it transferred £2bn of its debt to the company before selling out in 2017. According to press reports, during its period of ownership it took billions in dividends while paying next to no corporation tax.

 

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Posted 11:28 Friday, Sep 17, 2021 In: Local News

4 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. DAR

    Water companies should be in public ownership. The justification for privatisation is that it allows competition which means choices that will benefit the consumer. Patently, this is not the case with water: it’s a monopoly so consumers have no choice.

    Comment by DAR — Monday, Sep 20, 2021 @ 13:02

  2. Di

    How about a payout for loss of tourist income at the height of the tourist season?

    Comment by Di — Monday, Sep 20, 2021 @ 09:52

  3. Roger Burton

    And this man continues to take his bonus :

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-57865503

    Comment by Roger Burton — Monday, Sep 20, 2021 @ 05:55

  4. Paul Burns

    Southern Water need no one’s permission to pickup the debris that has resulted from their years of putting investors way ahead of customers.

    And what is the excuse for the excess shingle left after the partial clean-up? So deep is the shingle that there are “temporary” signs warning cyclists to dismount. Such a depth of shingle is also a hazard for anyone not-so-steady on their feet.

    Not much work would be needed to create a temporary safe path through the shingle.

    During the partial clean-up I saw several sewage pumping trucks at the sewage facility at the bottom of Galley Hill. If they brought crap from Bulverhyth, what happened to it in Bexhill?

    Comment by Paul Burns — Sunday, Sep 19, 2021 @ 21:52

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