A fresh call has been made by Wealden District Council for Southern Water to update and upgrade the sewerage and water infrastructure systems so they can deal with existing sewage issues and accommodate new development in the future.
The Conservative-run council issued the plea as part of its response to a consultation on the water company’s Draft Drainage and Wastewater Management Plan, which proposes how it will meet its infrastructure challenges up until 2050.
It also comes on the back of a Full Council Motion earlier in the summer when councillors unanimously agreed to hold Southern Water to account and take a lead on addressing issues of sewage backing up in the homes and gardens of local residents.
Southern Water is consulting with many stakeholders across the south east, including Wealden council especially as there have been major concerns regarding existing water infrastructure, considering the number of homes the council is expected by the government to provide in the future.
In the response, the council says it has concerns around the low level of upgrading water systems both in terms of pipework capacity and treatment for new development.
These works are funded directly by developers’ contributions and is generally meant to be undertaken within two years; yet this is not always happening in practice.
The response also says that the council and its communities in Wealden have lost faith in Southern Water and that the water company should consider reducing profits and shareholder dividends instead of funding these improvements through customer bills in the first instance.
Wealden District Council's Conservative leader, Councillor Ann Newton said, “It is considered imperative for both the health of the public and state of the environment that this plan from Southern Water acts as a catalyst to deliver the change necessary across our sewerage network.
“As can be seen from the council’s Full Council Motion on 20th July 2022, the council and our community have lost faith in Southern Water to deliver the infrastructure needed for our area. All too often communities are promised action and investment, be that to remedy a historic issue or through upgrades to support new growth, only to find that action is not forthcoming and the situation is made worse.
“Over the last few years, the council has been pressing for change, encouraging action, but seeing little. Staff at Southern Water will know well the issues at Station Road in Hellingly; Back Lane in Cross-in-Hand and Horebeech Lane in Horam, to name but a few.
“In all these cases investigation, investment and solutions have been promised, but been slow to materialise, all the while residents suffer with sewage backing up in their homes and gardens.
“We consider it is appropriate that first, Southern Water considers reducing profits and shareholder dividends, to increase investment, in conjunction with a greater level of central government funding to correct historic issues rapidly.
“It may be necessary for increased customer contributions, but only where it is evidenced that the step change in delivery is taking place on the ground. Simply ‘maintaining’ our water infrastructure considering the identified challenges is not a genuine option; investment to correct the mistakes of the past is clearly required.
“Developer contributions received by Southern Water also needs to be spent where growth is taking place, rather than putting the funding emphasis on existing bill payers in the first instance.
“We do consider it necessary to update and upgrade current water infrastructure, to investigate new alternatives and futureproof the network. The council’s emerging Local Plan will of course pursue efforts to achieve this – subject to financial viability -and is also actively considering policy issues around surface water drainage – the use of Sustainable Drainage Systems – and water efficiency for new developments, including measures that will reduce water consumption, including water re-use and recycling.“