Calls to install live update signs for wastewater discharges

Chichester District Council is to ask Southern Water to install live update signs wherever sewage or other wastewater is released into streams, rivers or the sea.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 3:44 pm
Chichester Harbour

The idea for the signs – which would give information about the quality of the water around each sewage outfall site – was part of a motion tabled by Jonathan Brown (Lib Dem, Southbourne) during a meeting of the full council on Tuesday (November 23).

He said: “I don’t honestly expect Southern Water to help, although I would be delighted to be proved wrong.”

The water company is under no legal obligation to install such signs – and Mr Brown’s suggestion that the council explore the cost of doing so itself was given a firm thumbs-down at the meeting.

While declaring the council to be ‘almost exasperated to the point of I don’t know what’ with Southern Water, leader Eileen Lintill said: “We should not be picking up costs for another organisation.”

Carol Purnell (Con, Sidlesham & Selsey North) agreed, adding that residents would end up paying twice if the council forked out for the installation costs – through their water bills and their council tax bills.

While unable to support the call for the council to explore the possibility of installing the live update signs, several councillors made it clear that they were not happy with the performance of Southern Water.

Roy Briscoe (Con, Westbourne) estimated it would cost the council around £10,000 to install each sign.

Calling such a move ‘misguided’ as it ‘lets Southern Water off the hook’, he added: “That’s not what we want to do – we want to hold Southern Water to account. Don’t give them the get-out clause.”

Penny Plant, cabinet member for environment, told the meeting that the council was engaging with Southern Water on the progress of its Drainage and Wastewater Management Plan for the area.

The plan, which will span 25 years or more, aims to improve water quality and drainage systems, and reduce flooding and pollution.

But she added: “There’s no doubt that the performance of Southern Water is below the standards that we all find acceptable.

“We do receive a large number of residents’ complaints about the capability of the pipe network in their area and we do have concerns about the limited head room at the wastewater treatment works that have either not kept pace with the past increase in population or have not made plans soon enough to accommodate future developments.

“We are not in any way supporting the status quo.”

The motion also called for a number of letters to be written – all of which were agreed by the councillors.

The first, to the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, to advocate for greater enforcement of existing regulatory powers.

The second, to the chief executives of Southern Water and OFWAT, calling for urgent action to address the impact of wastewater discharges on the district’s rivers and harbours.

The third, to the regional director of the National Farmers’ Union, asking for clarification on the action being taken by farmers to prevent nutrient run-off.

And the fourth, to the River Action and The Rivers Trust charities, expressing the council’s support for their campaign to restore the health of Britain’s rivers.

In a statement released after the meeting, Mr Brown said the decision not to look into installing live update signs was ‘a great shame’ and ‘tantamount to saying that we fear bad news and don’t want to know’.

He added: “It denies residents the opportunity to decide for themselves whether they wish to sail or bathe in polluted waters.

“It makes it harder for us to keep the pressure on Southern Water to clean up their act, and clean up our waters.

“Our motion did not commit us to unknown costs – it simply asked that we gather the evidence necessary to make an informed decision.”