Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Beach protest tells Southern Water to clean up their act

Many hundreds of people turned up to St Leonards beach on Friday 26th to protest against the notoriously poor record of Southern Water in looking after local water. A year after the pollution in Bulverhythe, raw sewage was being pumped into the sea at Seaford, and Bexhill beach was closed. Bernard McGinley was at the demonstration and took the photos.

The Clean Water Action Group (CWAG) drew many supporters and campaigners to the rally on Friday 26th. The broad message was simple: standards in water regulation are unacceptably low, and sewage should not be discharged into the sea by Southern Water. In short: ‘enough is enough’. 

Red flags and placards abounded. Speakers included CWAG activists Cllr Amanda Jobson and Becca Horn, Gabriel Carlyle, and a representative of Extinction Rebellion.

Becca Horn

Gabriel Carlyle

Sally-Ann Hart MP was there and denied that she was in favour of pollution. The Parliamentary record for 8 November 2021 (Division 104) shows that she voted for the government’s amendment to the Environment Bill and not the Lords amendment 45B. Relatively weaker regulation ensued. So the Duke of Wellington, a 77-year-old hereditary peer and proposer of the Lords amendment, is more progressive than the government. A parliamentary briefing explains more.

Sally-Ann Hart MP

Sally-Ann Hart was one of a number of local MPs to write on 18 August to the chief executives of the Environment Agency (the government regulator) and Southern Water about unacceptable sewage discharges:

. . . the resulting closure of popular beaches and restrictions on stretches of inland waterways causes financial loss to the numerous businesses who rely on our beaches and rivers. 

We believe that these discharges are caused by operational failure at the treatment works or via the outfalls process (which, regulated by the Environment Agency, are used by Southern Water to permit sewage discharge where sewers were built to carry both wastewater and rainwater away from communities). 

Government long-term changes

Also on Friday the Government (through Defra, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) announced new policies on ‘reduction in adverse impact’ and £56bn of capital investment in water treatment over the next 25 years, and a ‘Storm overflows discharge reduction plan.

The time horizon for the badly needed improvements is somewhat distant however 2035. How targets can be missed and bonuses still given is not addressed. Annex 4 gives commitments:


2025 Commitments

River water quality commitments

Southern Water

Reducing discharges to an average of 18 per year 

80% reduction in storm overflow spills by 2030 

It’s suspected that that’s an average of 18 discharges per year per outfall. The unit of measurement for reduction is also unclear. Is it spills or volume? Confusingly, the ‘Storm overflows’ plan refers in section 2.4 to ‘an 80% reduction in the number of annual discharges from storm overflows by 2050’.

Southern Water has a consultation on its first Drainage and Wastewater Management Plan (DWMP, possibly pronounced  ‘Dump’) running till 5 September.

What next?

The campaigners were underwhelmed with the pace and scale of the government’s reform programme, announced that same afternoon.  

Cllr Jobson pointed out the startlingly slow time frame — an 80% reduction in storm discharges by 2050. Though this in part reflects the scale of the problem, it also seems complacent. She said there were many hundreds of sewage discharge pipes across the country, which didn’t have a permit for illegally dumping untreated sewage.

The role of the trade body Water UK was also concerning in that the public were to pay more for the sewerage crisis. (Bonuses for missing targets would apparently continue.) 

Campaigner Annika Erikson was scathing, given the long history of talking the talk ‘and not much action’ but saw it as a welcome first step. She wanted to see 

detailed plans with milestone dates and to be alerted as the dates pass as to whether the milestones are achieved on time or not on a quarterly basis, please. 

Given the history of pollution, she also wondered about the tension between investments and dividends. She suggested that innovative ideas be reviewed for adoption in the present decade, such as creating

new green streams of revenue by turning sewage into energy or fertiliser as other countries have done, and commoditising rain water, instead of allowing these to become pollutants.

She also pointed out that swimming in disinfected poo was not a solution while the long-term impact of the disinfectants was ignored.

Additionally financial incentives should be considered (for reaching targets ahead of schedule), and the beneficial role of those punitive standbys, fines and prisons. ‘How many poisonous events are necessary before CEOs and directors should be locked up?’

Cllr Tony Collins, in whose ward the good-natured-but-strong demonstration took place, was also unimpressed with the water industry’s record and the outlook, where the government’s timidity regarding the water companies was clear.

He suggested ‘an unadmitted incoherence’ because of the pressure to keep housebuilding with a presumption that the consequent sewage would somehow be taken care of. This led to an underlying smugness ‘we are the first government to tackle the problem’ that really offended the nostrils.

CWAG continues

After the beach rally, many of the demonstrators marched off in the direction of Bulverhythe and a Southern Water treatment plant. The placards in their different ways had the same message of dissatisfaction with the water industry.

If you’re enjoying HOT and would like us to continue providing fair and balanced reporting on local matters please consider making a donation. Click here to open our PayPal donation link. Thank you for your continued support!

Posted 12:18 Wednesday, Aug 31, 2022 In: Campaigns

Also in: Campaigns

More HOT Stuff

    HOT is run by volunteers but has overheads for hosting and web development. Support HOT!


    Advertise your business or your event on HOT for as little as £20 per month
    Find out more…


    If you like HOT and want to keep it sustainable, please Donate via PayPal, it’s easy!


    Do you want to write, proofread, edit listings or help sell advertising? then contact us


    Get our regular digest emails

  • Subscribe to HOT