It’s been a busy week as MPs returned to Westminster. Votes were held on important pieces of legislation covering energy, economic crime, and Northern Ireland. On Wednesday, I was delighted to welcome an enthusiastic group of students from Bexhill Academy to Parliament and talk to them about the political issues that are important to them, before going on to meet up with Alzheimer’s Research UK to mark World Alzheimer’s Month.
One of the important local issues I continue to focus heavily on is sewage pollution. In my most recent column, I touched on how keen I am to both better understand the data behind the Environment Agency’s Pollution Risk Forecasts, as well as learning more about the testing regimes that are in place that will help to improve the quality of local bathing water.
Firstly, the Pollution Risk Forecasts. Many of you will be receiving these alerts from the Environment Agency that warn people when there is the potential for a sewage outflow. This typically happens on days when bad weather is forecast. This system, however, will only alert people to when an outflow may occur. It is often the case that despite the warning being in place, no such outflow actually takes place.
This is what happened on the day I had my most recent meeting with Southern Water, on 30 August. Although an Environment Agency Pollution Risk Forecast was in place for Bexhill, Southern Water were able to confirm to me that there had been no outflow spills. Despite this, the warning stayed in place all day.
Clearly this forecast was neither accurate nor helpful. It served only to deter people from visiting Bexhill’s beaches when there was no reason to stay away. This will have hit our local businesses, many of whom are reliant on visitors and tourists, the hardest.
I want to see a more accurate system put in place. Residents and visitors should be able to receive more up-to-date, real-time information as to what is actually happening. I am encouraged that Southern Water have agreed to continue to engage with the Environment Agency to try and improve the current system. This is something I will be following up on with both organisations and I will report back on the progress that is made.
Ultimately, all of the work that I am currently involved with in tackling sewage pollution is to improve the quality of our bathing waters. During the debate I led in Parliament last autumn, I called for water authorities to test Bexhill bathing water quality throughout the year, and from more locations. This would allow us to get a better understanding of the true quality of our water, and pinpoint where problems may exist.
As a result of this call, I am pleased that Southern Water voluntarily decided to set up a ‘shadow’ testing regime. This scheme takes frequent water samples across five coastal locations and 13 river locations in Bexhill, including at the Environment Agency’s official testing point at the Egerton Park stream outflow. Previous reports from this ‘shadow’ testing has provided encouraging data on the quality of water locally. This is something I will continue to monitor and will raise with Southern Water where I believe greater focus and attention is needed.
Progress has also been made in identifying and dealing with illegal connections, sometimes called ‘mis connections’. This is where a bathroom, washing machine, or dishwasher in a private property is not connected to the mains sewage system correctly. As a result, wastewater ends up going straight into the water system without being treated. This not only has a significant impact in reducing the quality of water, but can also cause pipe blockages which then lead to sewage spills.
Southern Water have now put in place a dedicated team to locate and deal with these illegal connections which has so far had a positive impact in identifying problem areas; helping to improve water quality and preventing pipes from becoming blocked as often.
Progress is being made in tackling sewage pollution locally. I want to ensure that we maintain this momentum and continue to improve the quality of local bathing water. I will continue to work closely with Southern Water and the Environment Agency so that we can fulfil our commitments to decrease outflows and I will continue to report back regularly to constituents.