Winchelsea Beach flooding and sewage issues

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At the Icklesham Parish Council meeting on November 13, councillors voted down an agenda item regarding further, much needed, house building at Icklesham. Why? Because Ian McConnochie, parish councillor for Icklesham, reported back that he had been ankle deep in sewerage around his home in Icklesham. Just like Winchelsea Beach, Southern Water appear to be hoping that their system can cope when using 5” pipes at both Winchelsea Beach and Icklesham, but clearly this does not work!

Previously on Saturday, September 23 Icklesham Parish Council had held a public meeting with Southern Water to discuss the ongoing flooding and sewage issues in Winchelsea Beach. John Penicud, director of wastewater operations, Catherine Marriott, regional operational manager for wastewater networks and Sue Cobb, stakeholder engagement manager attended to represent Southern Water. The meeting was chaired by Cllr David Smedley on behalf of Icklesham Parish Council. Also in attendance was Cllr Keith Glazier lead of East Sussex County Council and Cllrs. Hacking and Mier on behalf of Rother District Council. Environmental Health at Rother District Council were invited but they failed to send a representative.

Recent flooding at Winchelsea Beach

Southern Water explained that the issues in Winchelsea Beach are caused by ground water getting into the sewer system. They explained that the public sewer system has been surveyed by CCTV cameras. These surveys identified sewers that, although are structurally sound, have the potential for letting in water at pipe joints. Following these surveys, 1.1km of public sewers with defects likely to allow infiltration to have been sealed. Further scans of parts of the private system in the caravan parks were undertaken in 2022. These surveys identified a further 1.1km of repairs which have also been completed over the summer of 2023. Southern Water have also completed the works on a private sewer which was found to have defects. They confirmed that their focus now is working with the caravan parks in the area to ensure that they have watertight systems.

Although they did not confirm that the issues have been sorted out, they were hopeful that the work they have been doing will have improved the situation. IPC feel that this work has not improved the situation and that someone needs to go back to the drawing board. The inescapable fact is that what residents are putting down their toilets is ending up in their gardens instead of a treatment plant thus resulting in total failure of a sewer system.

The planning committee of Icklesham Parish Council have continuously borne in mind the sewerage problem over many years and have objected to countless applications to Rother DC that IPC have seen as over-development at Winchelsea Beach. The committee totally opposed the extension to the opening times at Windmill caravan park, but these objections have been ignored although the increase obviously puts an already failing sewerage system under increased pressure. It is difficult to know why Rother allow additional building except for the fact that when one building is demolished, and two or three replace it means double or treble the council tax income.

So, excellent for Rother, but not for residents whose health and mental well-being are being compromised. Let alone our poor parish clerk and councillors who try their best to support, and help residents which Rother should be doing.

Tankers at Winchelsea Beach

And now with the unprecedented rainfall recently tankers are back at Winchelsea Beach as expected doing the job that the sewerage pipes should be doing. This cost to Southern Water must be enormous, but Southern Water refuse to disclose the cost when requested by IPC who have once again been receiving complaints as to the operation of the tankers which disturb residents’ quiet enjoyment of their homes, and wrecks our roads because of the weight when moving water extracted from the system to dump elsewhere.

Icklesham Parish Council have lost patience with Rother planning department who continuously and irresponsibly fail to take their views into consideration, and they lay the blame firmly at RDC’s door that Southern Water have been allowed to run roughshod over tearful and fearful residents who have sewerage lapping at their doors and are being offered empty sandbags by RDC… The mere fact they failed to send someone from their Environmental Health department to the September meeting says it all, and IPC would like to know what RDC are going to do about this problem. How would Rother District Councillors like sewerage blowing back in their toilets, or to be wading in sewerage in their gardens, yet they expect parish council residents to accept this unhealthy situation? IPC look forward with interest to hearing from RDC.

If residents experience issues such as flooding, sewage backing up etc., please call Southern Water on 0330 303 0368. To ensure the issue is logged correctly please quote reference number 4583202 which explains the history of this problem or email sussexcustomer@southernwater.co.uk.

PO Box 148, Winchelsea, East Sussex TN31 9FP
Telephone: 07714 169901 or email: ickleshampc@hotmail.co.uk

Image Credits: Icklesham Parish Council .

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5 COMMENTS

  1. It is a great shame that facts were not checked before this letter was written, sent and published. I assume it was sent with the authority of the Parish Council, though it is not signed by the clerk, a councillor or any named person.
    It is not correct to say –
    “ It is difficult to know why Rother allow additional building except for the fact that when one building is demolished, and two or three replace it means double or treble the council tax income.”
    I have looked at the 50 Winchelsea Beach applications decided since Rother’s planning policy was updated at the end of 2019. There is not one instance of permission being granted for more houses than existing on a site. Even applications for single new dwellings have been refused unless like for like replacements.
    What has happened accords with local and national policy. Winchelsea Beach has no development boundary meaning permission for additional dwellings is likely to be granted only in very limited circumstances. The flood risks are obvious and the planning hurdles to permission significant.
    What has been allowed are three additional caravans at Smugglers End Caravan Park and some extensions to the season during which holiday caravans can be used. An extended season adds minimal foul discharge to the sewer and no additional surface discharge. It is the surface water in the foul sewer which has been the major problem at Winchelsea Beach as the article notes.
    I know that some Parishes are unhappy with extended holiday caravan seasons. Parishes fear the extension will be abused by people using the caravans as their permanent residence, contrary to the terms of the permission and of the licence. This summer I met Rother’s officer who deals with caravan site licensing. She explained that in 2016 Rother introduced standard conditions for licensed caravan sites. Those conditions require the site operator to record details of visitors and their permanent addresses, including two proofs of permanent address. Those records can be and are inspected by Rother officers and the sites themselves inspected.
    Should anyone have good cause to believe a holiday caravan is being used as a permanent residence they should make a planning enforcement complaint via Rother’s website.
    I see no reason whatsoever to believe that Rother has irresponsibly or otherwise ignored Icklesham PC’s views nor can they in any way be said to be to blame for the flooding. On the contrary Rother’s policies have been robust and have been properly applied. The lead flood authority is the County Council, not Rother.
    Last and my no means least it was wrong for the article to criticise the senior Environmental Health Officer (Head of Environmental Health) for not attending the September Saturday meeting. He is the most conscientious and able officer and has attended other weekend meetings on this subject. He was given only two weeks’ notice of the meeting which was fixed for when he was on annual leave.
    Although I am Rother’s Planning Committee Chair I write this in my personal capacity as a ward councillor. My comments are not to be taken as a formal response on the part of the council. That may yet follow.

  2. Thank you Councillor Andrew Mier for your letter concerning planning in Winchelsea Beach but you are less informed about the facts than the author of the article. It is unclear in what capacity you responded to the article in Rye News – on the one hand you say you do not represent Rother District Council, but you say you are a Ward Councillor for the same Council. On the other hand, you do not represent the Icklesham ward and when we came to you to seek help, the non-ward Councillors that responded said they could not get involved as this was not their ward. Then you add that you are the new Chair of the Planning Committee, so some clarity about what role you are using would be helpful.

    Over the years we have lived in Winchelsea Beach, we have seen several decisions by Rother District Council planning which contradict your “fact-checking”.

    hundreds of additional mobile homes have been allowed to be developed in flood areas (as shown by the photograph) and in fact, continue to be developed.
    ever more mobile homes parks with hundreds of mobile homes now have had their licenses changed from 8 to upto 11.5 months per year. While planning can put its head in the sand that they are only used for holiday use, we residents are fully aware of the many people who live there permanently (as evidenced further by the occupancy during Covid). You are also aware of this as you were told about this before the application of one of the caravan parks for 11.5 months of occupancy, but at the time the Rother District Councillors that responded stated they did not cover this ward so could not get involved. Why the interest now when the evidence of neglect by Rother District Council is questioned? Perhaps you might check how many of the “holiday makers” are now registered with local GPs.
    park owners force the conversion of older mobile homes to ones with showers, complete bathrooms, washing machines, dishwashers etc, putting a heavy burden on our already decrepit sewage system (as stated by Southern Water).
    small bungalows or even converted mobile homes and train carriages are replaced by many-bedroomed houses clearly not for the same occupancy as the bungalows they are replacing.
    minor conversions to existing houses or small expansions are blocked for reasons that do not seem to apply to the mobile home operators (traffic, flooding, destruction of the natural environment, etc).
    We have heard about the ingress of surface water into the ancient sewage system and Southern Waters stories about lining the system and how this would resolve everything. In fact it has resolved nothing but cause more sewage overflows, noise, diesel fumes and inconvenience to local residents.

    Councillor Mier’s predecessor as Chair of the planning committee made a big deal about consultation in the planning process. In a recent application, there were 39 letters of objection to an application for an extension of the license period from 8 to 11.5 months. Every Councillor on the Rother Council was written to personally, the Parish Council raised numerous objections (and took the trouble to meet with residents) and still the application went through “on the nod” and was never even brought to Committee. Not a single Rother District Councillor, including our ward Councillors or the planning department showed a moment of interest or support for residents or the impact on this beautiful area. The reason I was given later, verbally, is that Rother District Council is afraid of legal objections, and the companies making the applications have deeper pockets than the residents to ask for judicial reviews. I have not been able to confirm this.

    So while the statement about the turning down of applications for newly built houses may be true, this Councillor, who now states he is writing as a Ward Councillor about a ward that is not his, but tries to add to his credentials by stating he is now the Chair of the Planning Committee, has conveniently omitted the true development that is happening here. Even more disappointing is that the occupants of the mobile homes licensed for 11.5 months do not have to pay Council tax so there is absolutely no net benefit to anyone, including the Council. Playing down the huge impact of the year-round occupancy of hundreds of mobile homes, many permanently, displays a disappointing level of ignorance.

    On YouTube I saw a copy of a video meeting for Rother District Councillors with the head of planning for Rother. One of the points made by the head is that the department is also responsible for enforcement but does not have the resources, so relies on residents. However, when residents bring matters to the attention of planning, licensing or even the Councillors, this is studiously ignored and, in one case, the department wrote back that they were going to ignore all future communication on the basis that it was none of our business. Councillor Mier is aware of this action by Rother Council as he was sent a copy of the complaint.

    Perhaps in the future Councillor Mier will try to be less defensive, get better informed and check his facts in advance, especially in his new role as Chair of the Planning Committee. Adding hundreds of mobile homes with 11.5 months occupancy (and not paying Council tax) has a major impact on an area with virtually no local infrastructure of decent roads, sewage, utilities, etc. As residents of Winchelsea Beach will tell you, we suffer every year from sewage overspill into our homes and gardens, tankers blocking our roads, noisy engines running day and at times nights and belching our diesel fumes in front of peoples’ houses. Perhaps Councillor Mier or another Rother District Councillor would like to show some interest in the damage their planners are doing to this area before taking pen to paper to write a completely fair and balanced article. You just have to look at the photographs included to know there is a problem – you could take the pictures again today. We live here – we know the facts.

    • I wrote in my response to the Rye News article that “Although I am Rother’s Planning Committee Chair I write this in my personal capacity as a ward councillor. My comments are not to be taken as a formal response on the part of the council.”
      I mentioned my role as Chair of Planning as it in part explains my interest in your problems and in what was said in the article. I add that my ward, Southern Rother, includes Icklesham Village so my relationship with the Parish Council is important to me. My ward includes Pett Level and Fairlight, both of which have foul and surface water problems. Pett Level suffered a serious flood in January 2023. I therefore have an interest in the subject.

      Icklesham Parish is difficult from the ward members’ point of view in that it includes four separate settlements and part of several wards – Rye and Winchelsea, Eastern Rother and Southern Rother. Interests will sometimes cross ward boundaries, though the relevant ward members should normally deal with matters in their own wards. I have copied in Cllrs Osbourne and Hacking as they are responsible for Winchelsea Beach (Eastern Rother Ward).

      I did not comment on any building or other development prior to 2019 which was when I was elected and when the present (soon to be superseded) Development and Site Allocations Local Plan came into force. Prior to that there was a great deal of development which we can all see, some from before modern planning controls were introduced in 1948, and certainly before today’s more rigorous standards. If I have missed any recent developments, other than those I mentioned in my reply, please let me know.

      Replacement of dwellings at Winchelsea Beach should generally be on a like-for like basis, though I concede modern needs often include features such home offices and building regulations will to some degree affect the form and appearance of replacement dwellings. If you can give examples of the spirit of the rule not being followed I would happily look at them.

      It is true that an extended occupancy period for holiday caravans has become normal. Professional planning officers have advised that this is acceptable. I have already acknowledged Parish Councils’ concerns about people living in holiday caravans as their main residence and I have also set out the controls in place to prevent abuse. If you or anyone else has evidence of such abuse please make formal planning and licensing complaints to Rother and copy in ward councillors and me.

      You are concerned that a longer occupancy period puts further strain on the admittedly unsatisfactory Southern Water drainage system. The underlying problem at Winchelsea Beach is not domestic waste water, but surface water. Quantities of foul waste (to include showers etc) from caravans or houses are surprisingly small. My household water returned to the sewer is 284 litres per day. Over a 16 hour day that is 17.75 litres per hour or 0.3 litres per minute. However, any future applications for extended opening seasons would need to consider all material considerations relevant to the facts of those applications.

      I can see there was correspondence with me in December 2022 about Windmill Park. I advised about call-in procedures and referred my correspondent to Ward Councillors Osbourne and Hacking, though I suspected the matter was out of time for call-in to committee. (I would add that in exceptional circumstances the Chair of the Planning Committee can call-in an application out of time but before a decision has been taken. I have known that power exercised only once.)

      Holiday caravans do not have their refuse collected by Rother without payment. It is true they do not pay council tax, but holiday sites pay business rates, part of which is retained by Rother, the rest being remitted to central government.

      It is true that everyone would like to see more resources devoted to enforcement. It is also true that enforcement is expensive and complex. However, my experience of Rother enforcement officers is that they do an excellent job and respond in a proportionate way to complaints, including attending at weekends. Not every complaint will be investigated and action is not always appropriate in eg trivial cases. Rother, like all local authorities, has very tight finances but the message you have taken away from the on-line seminar (which I attended) is not in my view a fair or accurate one. Rother’s Enforcement Policy is published on the website.

      Please remind me of the case in which you say residents were told the complaint was “none of their business”. I don’t recall it.

      I share my predecessor’s concern that there should be openness and appropriate consultation in planning matters. That said decisions have to be taken by officers (under delegated powers) or by the planning committee. We have to apply national and local policy. If we do not we fail in our duty and we are potentially wasting valuable resources on lost appeals and legal proceedings. The sheer number of objections can never outweigh those considerations. That is most definitely not the same as saying we are afraid to do our duty in proper cases.

      Very soon Rother’s new draft Local Plan – setting out local policies and site allocations – will go out for public consultation. I strongly recommend that you, Parish Councils, local organisations and anyone with an interest in the future of the District should take time to participate in the consultation. It will be interesting to see what the draft says about Winchelsea Beach.

      Residents should certainly work with Parish Councils (as you have) on matters such as the flooding and planning, but they must involve their Rother District Councillors (and County Councillors) in matters where Rother has powers and duties. I know Cllrs Osbourne and Hacking and would be very surprised if they were not interested in your problems. We are all here to help if we can.

      I am sorry Winchelsea Beach residents have suffered and continue to suffer as you have. I hope Southern Water can find a solution to the problem and that Rother can continue to play its part through robust policies, decisions and enforcement.

  3. Cllr Andrew Mier your comments are to be taken as the Chair of Planning at RDC as you put your authority argument forward. If a complaint is put forward to Democratic Services they will be able to reach that conclusion just by reading your public statement. Just stating at the end of your Cllr statement as a person of control on RDC that it is your personal view doesn’t cut it‍♀️

  4. Thank you for commenting. It is rewarding to know that some officials are interested in our plight.
    We invited our MP to Harbour Farm, Harbour Barn, Willow Lane and some of Sea Road in 2022. On this visit we presented our MP with 36 letters from residents, who have experienced overflowing toilets that they are unable to use during the winter, surface flooding and even sewage in homes. This has gone on for years.
    We then opened a complaint with Southern Water that took until November 2023 to go absolutely nowhere. Questions and requests remained unanswered and they failed to release the complaint, so we could take the case to the CCW*. They then would not act on our behalf and asked me to get each vulnerable, disabled and elderly resident to write in separately to Southern Water.
    Apparently, there are weekly meetings with the CEO of Southern Water to little avail. The pipes that were sealed prove in effective.
    I had to complain yet again to get more tankers out to Willow Lane to support my neighbours just before Christmas.
    The only representative from Southern Water I have had visit to discuss matters, was a manager from the tanker company (December 2023), who was very apologetic, but doesn’t work for Southern Water. He stated there were just not enough tankers to cope with the historic issues.
    East Sussex Council and Highways refuse to assist. The Environment Agency are disinterested with the likely flooding of effluent into Rye Nature Reserve and the rain continues.
    It is only a matter of time before someone is completely flooded by sewage and frankly nobody cares.
    Icklesham Parish Council is the only group that shows any empathy and it is interesting and poignant that there is more interaction on Rye News than from Southern Water.

    *[NOTE: CCW is The Consumer Council for Water. https://www.ccw.org.uk/ ]

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