Update from Sally-Ann Hart

Water supply issues hit Rye again at the end of November. This time, it was a burst water main leak underneath Monk Bretton Bridge on the A259. 750 properties in Camber, East Guldeford and Rye were impacted by low pressure or no water. Again, as I did when Rye suffered water outages in late September and early October, I urged Southern Water to focus on a solution to ensure the supply of mains pressure water to affected properties (we all know how unsatisfactory the tankered water supply is), as well as delivering water bottles to the most vulnerable and setting up a water station.

I was relieved that Southern Water acted much more quickly this time around, with bottled water delivered to those on the priority services register immediately and setting up a bottled water station in Camber. These measures were not needed for very long as whilst the burst was in a tricky location, Southern Water installed an overland pump, which helped divert the water network around the impacted area, enabling all customers to return to mains supply. Lessons have clearly been learnt from last time.

Water quality has been a topic of debate in Parliament again this week. The Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill which would establish a sewage victim compensation scheme. This would have changed nothing as regards the rights of those potentially affected by water pollution because anyone who suffers harm as a result of criminal conduct can already seek compensation where there is evidence of personal injury, loss or damage through criminal or civil proceedings. It was just the political game playing of opposition parties but a bit rich considering that according to reports, sewage pipes in a seafront café owned by the Liberal Democrat controlled Eastbourne Council were illegally connected to surface water in 2007 and were not inspected – discharging thousands of litres of sewage directly into the sea for nearly 17 years.

The Labour Party led an opposition day debate on protecting water quality and reducing storm overflows, as well as bonuses for water company executives. Again, political grandstanding as this government is already forcing water companies to clean up their act. There are now duties on water companies to monitor water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works and to publish storm overflow data, holding them to account on sewage. When Labour left office in 2010, just seven per cent of storm overflows were being monitored, meaning discharge of sewage went under-reported and unmonitored. The Conservative government has driven this up to 91 per cent already and expect to have 100 per cent of overflows being monitored by the end of this year. This will give us the tools we need to hold water companies, including Southern Water, to account. It is good news that 90 per cent of bathing waters are now rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, including our own bathing waters off the coast of Hastings and Rye.

The government is also prosecuting water companies that illegally pollute our rivers, making clear that polluters will pay for damage to our natural environment. Since 2015 the Environment Agency has brought 58 prosecutions against water companies, securing fines of over £141 million. Some of the biggest fines were imposed in recent years – including a record £90 million fine for Southern Water in 2021. I was delighted with my campaign – along with other Conservative Environment Network colleagues – in successfully lobbying ministers to reinvest fines for companies that pollute our waters into environmental and water quality improvement projects – not to the Treasury.

This Water Restoration Fund can be invested in a variety of projects such as creating wetlands, re-vegetating riverbanks and reconnecting meanders to main rivers. These sorts of schemes, paid for through fines imposed on water companies, will not only help improve our natural environment, but also protect public health and reduce pollution. In addition, and for the first time ever, the government is also incentivising water companies to invest to significantly reduce the use of storm overflows – between 2020 and 2025, they will invest £7.1 billion on environmental improvements in England, including £3.1 billion on storm overflows. This will create the new infrastructure needed to stop discharges. These steps to increase monitoring and fines for water companies is the right long-term approach to this issue and will be far more effective than Labour’s short-term proposals to tax water companies more which would drive up water bills for hard-working families.

In addition, this government is imposing a legal duty on water companies to deliver £56 billion in capital investment over 25 years to reduce storm overflows. Water companies must produce comprehensive statutory drainage and sewerage management plans to manage and develop their drainage and sewerage system over 25 years.

Under the 2021 Environment Act, new powers were created including a power of direction for the government to direct water companies in relation to the actions in these drainage and sewerage management plans if they are not good enough. This power of direction will also crack down on sewage discharges.

Protecting and improving our water quality is something I am passionate about and have campaigned long and hard for – and will continue to do so. Improving our water quality will not only benefit our coastal economy but it will also improve our coastal ecosystem, restore and increase biodiversity and help unleash the power of the ocean to sequester carbon and help mitigate against climate change.

I am proud to be part of a government which has introduced deliverable, costed plans to tackle this issue – with requirements on water companies to significantly reduce storm overflows and clean up pollution as well as new powers for the government to direct underperforming companies, which the government will not hesitate to use. We all strive to turn our waters blue, not brown.

Image Credits: Rye News library .

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  1. Mrs Hart, I have the utmost respect for you as a local person who has served her community. But really… Talk about spilling sewage…
    After 13 years of Conservative rule, with Rye people queuing at standpipes like refugees, recent flooding in Tilling Green, two devastating floods in Hastings and no decision on whether local businesses there can even claim under the Flood Recovery compensation scheme (bcs the flood happened ‘three days too late’!?!), you’re seriously dredging up a 16 year old story about a council-owned building misconnecting a sewer pipe? In Eastbourne?? Really??? That does smack somewhat of desperation even by the standards of the current administration…
    If progress is now being made, that’s great. I hope we’ll all notice the difference very soon. But as with other constituents, and indeed, people nationwide, I expect it’ll be deemed to be too little and far, far too late…

  2. Having met recently with the Labour shadow minister for the environment I dispute Mrs Hart’s claim that Labour’s only plan is short term and based on increased tax on water companies, let’s see what their manifesto contains when the time comes for an election. She claims, probably rightly, that this would be passed on to the consumer but where does she imagine the money to pay more and more fines comes from ? As with the NHS fines for poor delivery don’t work effectively as it just takes money out of an already underfunded system. Southern Water haven’t paid shareholder dividends since 2017 and are actually banned from doing so due to their perilous financial state. The answer surely lays in regulation of practices and in controlling salaries and bonus payments made to those in charge ?
    As Guy says to divert focus onto historical errors by others is a bit rich, as for claiming that our shores are fit to swim in I suggest Mrs Hart takes a closer look at the facts before hailing her government’s “success” in article which is little more than a party political broadcast.

  3. So, Ms Hart you are delighted the money from fines was reinvested. The money that comes from the coffers of the water company. AKA The Muggins that pay their higher water bills. How about trimming the ludicrous salaries of the charlatans that run the companies. A little fiscal pain might just get their attention.

  4. I’ve just found the CIWEM website (Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management) – I wasn’t aware of it before – where, amongst many pieces, you can read different political and professional viewpoints on the matter of water industry and where different models for water companies are discussed. Also lots of other environmental articles by the people actually working in the field. Interesting and informed.
    I read Mrs Hart’s letter. It came across as sneering at others’ efforts and (undeserved) patting-themselves-on-the-back but nonetheless I’m grateful to her as it prompted me to find considered information and discussion on water and the environment.

  5. I’m afraid I found nothing helpful in Mrs Hart’s words, more of a chance to promote herself and belittle other political parties. There can be no denial that the only solution is to come from the government to ‘take the reins’ and as our current government has failed to do so, it would appear that we are in dire need of a government who is willing to.

  6. Mrs Hart, I respect your engagement with the local community and the courtesy of our exchanges, but we need more robust and determined representation from our MP.

    This week Surfers Against Sewage has been warning against swimming at Camber Sands because of sewage overflows. This is now happening almost every time it rains. We have a small community of swimmers in Camber who swim all year round and our frustration is intense, especially when this is added to recent interruptions to our water supplies.

    I have given up writing to you because as your letter above shows, you seem more interested in scoring political points than in representing your constituents whose lives are disrupted time and again because of the failings of Southern Water. Your party has been in power since 2010. It is 13 years too late for you to gain any credit for reining in the privatised water companies. These are sticking plaster solutions to corporate abuses that have resulted in the poisoning of our waterways on your Government’s watch.

    As you might remember, in one of your replies to me you erroneously claimed that Camber Sands water quality had improved in recent years, when in fact it has been downgraded from excellent to good. You apologised when I pointed this out, but I wonder how many people accept such disinformation. Either way, I believe the vandalisation of the country’s seas, rivers and lakes will not be forgiven or forgotten by the British public. Sometimes, our elected representatives need to put integrity and ethical accountability before party loyalty.

  7. This ‘update’ by our MP really takes the biscuit. It was the Conservative government in 1989 who privatised the ten publicly owned regional water authorities in England and Wales, leading to the collapse in water infrastructure investment which has caused the current appalling situation. In effect, the private water companies have paid their shareholders and executives massive amounts that should have been invested in modernising our water network. Macquarie Group, the Australian company which siphoned billions out of Thames Water, leaving it in the parlous financial condition it now finds itself, has owned a majority stake in Southern Water since 2021. No other country in Europe allows its water services to be in private hands, for good reason.
    Ms Hart blames Southern Water for the recent water outages, when it’s essentially her government’s fault they are happening. Rather than attempting to blame other political parties, she needs to admit where the true fault lies. As for claiming some sort of success with monitoring sewage discharges and prosecuting water companies, it’s shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. Anyone viewing the recent BBC ‘Panorama’ report can see how water companies are able to cover up serious discharges by declaring them to be a lower, non-reportable category. Cuts to the Environment Agency’s budget have made it virtually toothless when it comes to prosecuting water companies, who just laugh at any fines and treat them as a minor business expense. People in Sussex and elsewhere are incandescently angry at the almost constant sewage discharges into our rivers and sea under this government — and they will make their views known in next year’s general election. In the meantime, Ms Hart needs to accept reality and stop trying to use her articles in Rye News to boost her faltering credentials in what is patently a desperate attempt to cling onto her seat. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the current government that’s turned our blue waters brown. It’ll be voters in the ‘brown wall’ seats of England who decide the coming election.

  8. I can appreciate the strength of feeling on this issue, it is obvious and clear how residents and business have been let down, in some areas relying for long periods on bottled water, and more recently the restaurant area in Marks and Spencer at Ravenside, no water at all which resulted in that section being closed, and staff not employed there.
    There are so many issues, which we are all aware about, clearly, lessons have not been learnt. The sooner MP’s, and that’s ALL of them realise they are elected by local people, not Westminster, maybe, just maybe we will be acknowledged.


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