Bexhill and Battle MP, Huw Merriman, has this week stepped up his campaign to find local and national solutions to reduce sewage discharges and improve the coastal bathing water.
Last Wednesday, the MP led a 90 minute debate in Parliament, where he welcomed the first ever storm overflow reduction plan, and the £56 billion to fund it, but called for more ambition to the deadlines and listed other bodies and organisations whose involvement would be crucial in delivering a solution.
A few days later, Mr Merriman held a site-meeting with representatives from the Environment Agency, Southern Water, Rother District Council and East Sussex County Council to view the beach outflows. The meeting began at the Environment Agency outflow pipe from the Egerton stream, took in Southern Water’s outflow and finished further up the water course in Egerton Park. The team discussed a new mapping project, being brought to Bexhill, which will test water from across the town and pinpoint causes which could be responsible for the ‘sufficient’ rating accorded to Bexhill’s bathing water quality.
In the debate, the MP had used the beach at Bexhill to back up his calls for continuous bathing water testing and a joined-up approach between local authorities, Government agencies and sewage companies, saying “The fact that we do not know why our bathing water is only just sufficient tells us that we do not know enough about what is going on and therefore we do not know how to clean things up.”
Speaking after the debate, the MP said
“This debate gave me a chance to put my own proposals down which I believe will help deliver earlier solutions. I called for an end to developers being able to build new housing which is allowed to add to the 100,000+ miles of combined sewer. Water authorities should be statutory consultees to planning applications; effectively no more housebuilding where the situation is going to be made worse. I also called for our highways authorities to be given more of a role, and some of the funding, to ensure surface water isn’t going from our roads and down the drain and, via 15,000 storm overflows, into our seas and waterways. I want discharges to be tested for volume and not just duration, for testing of Bexhill’s bathing water to be continuous and across the beach. It should not be weekly in summer and taken solely next to the Egerton stream outflow. I asked for beaches with bathing waters which are neither Excellent or Good, to be prioritised via the improvements. This would prioritise an improvement to Bexhill’s water quality. At our homes, we could all do more if we knew we were connected to a combined sewer; the public may be more inclined to get a water butt and capture water from the gutters and then use it in drier times.”
Speaking after the site visit at Bexhill, Huw added “The project to map our local water inlets and outlets should allow us to pinpoint the issues and fix them. I am determined we will find the cause. For residents inland, such as Heathfield, I am determined that we deliver a solution to the blight which householders have been suffering when heavy rains cause the system to overload into properties. As I said in my debate, this situation has been going on for decades. There are hundreds of thousands of miles of combined sewers. Playing politics, or pretending there is an easy fix, is not going to deliver a solution. This has been going on for decades. I’ve asked that we stick to the facts, work together in Parliament with ideas for change and be nicer to each other and our waterways.”
Mr Merriman will shortly be hosting a meeting in Westminster with all MPs in Sussex and the Chief Executives of Southern Water and the Environment Agency. He said “My colleagues in Hastings and Rye, Lewes and Eastbourne sat with me in the debate; all of us spoke. As one of us said, we are never satisfied in East Sussex until we have found a solution.”