Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Items deposited on the shingle by the sewage leak and collected and photographed by Cath Tajima-Powell on 26 October. A Southern Water official told MP Sally-Ann Hart that a clean-up had been performed on 6 October.

Sewage detritus remains after ineffective beach clean

Southern Water has told MP Sally-Ann Hart that it performed a clean-up of the section of Bulverhythe beach polluted by July’s sewage leak, but much detritus remains in place. It has also made compensation offers to several affected hut owners – the going rate is around £950. Nick Terdre reports.

On 6 October Southern Water carried out a long-awaited clean-up of the section of Bulverhythe beach which was flooded by a sewage leak in late July. HOT learned of this not from the company’s media office, which failed to respond to a request for an update on this matter, but from an affected hut owner who asked for help from local MP Sally-Ann Hart after her direct request for a clean-up to the water company produced no results.

Photo taken by Cath Tajima-Powell on 26 October.

Cath Tajima-Powell was forwarded an email, of which HOT has had sight, by Hart’s office in which a Southern Water official, name not revealed, assured the MP that a clean was on-going, managed carefully in accordance with guidance from Natural England and the Environment Agency. Crust was left to naturally disperse and degrade, the official wrote, and after receiving permission a company ecologist removed crust left in sheltered areas and around some of the beach plants on 6 October, after which the they completed a health check of the plants.

The company had committed to continue monitoring the area in partnership with Hastings Borough Council and Natural England into next year to ensure the habitat was not negatively impacted, the email concluded. For Southern Water, then, it appears the clean-up has been completed.

However it did not take long for Tajima-Powell to find plenty of detritus left on the shingle – as her photographs show. I was pleased to receive the message from the MP’s office and I have thanked them,” she told HOT.

“However the beach is still seriously polluted. If this is Southern Water’s clean-up operation, it’s not satisfactory. There are still loads of stuff – sanitary items, wipes, plastic and sewage sludge in plain sight.

“I’m not an expert on rare vegetated shingle environments such as we have at Bulverhythe, but plastic, clumps of sewage and sewage detritus in the shingle, plus hundreds of tomato plants that grew from the spill, are certainly NOT natural. It’s disgraceful that our beach has not been cleaned by now.”

News to HBC?

There is no mention of a clean-up having been performed in the council’s statement reporting a meeting which councillors and senior officers held with senior Southern Water representatives in the week the clean-up took place, even though the point was to “discuss the on-going clean-up operation at Bulverhythe beach.”

“This was a productive meeting,” council leader Kim Forward said. “The Southern Water Chief Executive apologised for the terrible leak in July and explained that it was a very unusual system failure. Testing is ongoing to reduce the chances of further incidents.”

She went on to say, “We will be meeting with Southern Water on an on-going basis to hear the results of the investigations, and so we can make sure that the beach is restored to its former state and that all beach hut owners who were affected are compensated.”

For his part the water company’s chief executive Ian McAulay told the council representatives that “Hastings will continue to be a priority for our misconnections team which has already prevented hundreds of thousands of litres of sewage entering surface drains and directly impacting the environment.”

Tajima-Powell commented: “I read the recent HBC press release saying that they want to make sure the beach is returned to its former state, but in that case they need to take up the issue of continuing pollution with Southern Water as a matter of urgency. I have sent copies of my photos to the MP’s office and asked them to do the same.”

Compensation offered

HOT is aware of several hut owners who have been offered compensation of £950 for the loss of amenity by the water company’s loss adjuster Sedgwick, though it appears some only received the offer after complaining at the length of time it was taking.

According to Sedgwick, the amount is based on the value of the daily ground rent during the loss period, plus the daily ‘value’ equivalent to the loss of use of a home.

Stressing the generosity of the offer, Sedgwick wrote to one hut owner: “While loss of use of a home will carry a greater value than loss of use of a beach hut, Southern Water Services Ltd have agreed to apply the ‘home’ value in this instance, in recognition that the loss of use came during summer months, and when there was more emphasis on UK holidaying due to foreign travel restrictions.

“Our calculation incorporates a loss period between the date of the loss (29 July 2021) and 31 December 2021 (5 months, ie, 156 days). The loss period has been extended well beyond the anticipated repair period for any hut, which is again an attempt to recognise the disruption.”

Cordon sanitaire?: If, in Southern Water’s view, the beach has been cleaned, why is there still a fence demarcating, if ineffectively, the polluted zone?

If Southern Water has completed its clean-up operation, beach users are entitled to ask why the area in front of the huts which was flooded is still cordoned off – “cordoned off” in the sense that the orange plastic fence is still largely in place, though it forms an incomplete boundary and most of it is lying on the ground, while there is also no notice to explain what it is there for.

“The ‘protective’ orange fencing is still in place, although poorly maintained,” a hut owner told HOT. “My understanding is that this was a warning to hut owners to avoid the contaminated area.”

Toned down

The tone of HBC’s statement is markedly milder than in their press release of 20 August, when as part of a six-point plan they called for the renationalisation of water services, the establishment of clear culpability for the leak and detailed communications from Southern Water “with both the public and our beach hut owners so that the cleaning up process and future investment in our water is transparent for all.”

A council spokesperson told HOT that “In regards to the renationalisation of the water companies, Cllrs Forward and Barnett stand by the statement we made earlier in the year around the leak and Southern Water,” but did not confirm that HBC is seeking to have its leak-related costs covered by the water  company.

Hard-pressed council taxpayers may feel concerned at the possibility that they are having to contribute to the council’s costs for an incident which was wholly Southern Water’s responsibility.

The council representatives were informed at their meeting of the takeover of the water company by Australian investment bank Macquarie, which, they said, “will mean further major infrastructure investments and improvements.” Others have expressed scepticism about that likelihood in view of Macquarie’s performance as the owner of Thames Water a few years ago, when it reportedly left the company saddled with debt.

McAulay’s lauding of the misconnections team also sits awkwardly alongside Southern Water’s practice of deliberately releasing raw sewage into the sea for which it was recently given a record fine of £90m.

The fence viewed from the western end.

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Posted 16:05 Saturday, Oct 30, 2021 In: Local News


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. DAR

    1. Charges should be for investment, not shareholders: re-nationalise. 2. More people = more sewage: no more large new housing developments here -already too many people in SE England where water is at a premium.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Nov 4, 2021 @ 11:39

  2. Paul Burns

    The clean up work has also left larger puddles on the gravel road. The road needs grading to move the gravel from where it is too thick to were the puddles are forming. What was a minor problem has become more significant since the “clean up”.

    Comment by Paul Burns — Sunday, Oct 31, 2021 @ 22:17

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