In an unprecedented step, Wealden District councillors supported unanimously a decision to censure a statutory water and sewerage company, during a full council meeting this week (20 July).
Members across the district united in calling on Southern Water to share more information about the impact of new housing on its sewage network in relation to the impact of sewage overflows on the local environment after hearing that we have the most polluted rivers in Europe.
Councillors were concerned to hear from speakers that the present planning process does not allow proper consideration of cumulative sewage discharge into waterways. And, so the motion also called on council officers to examine and report on the impact new development may have on sewage discharges when assessing planning applications as well as to build an evidence base which could factor into future local plans.
The motion was seconded by Wealden council's Leader, Conservative councillor Ann Newton who took the opportunity to include a minor amendment, adding reference to a recent meeting between some councillors and representatives of Southern Water.
Cllr Newton said: “We do need to take control over this. We owe it actually to the generations going forward. We should be and are a civilised country and it doesn’t seem right that we are just pumping, willy-nilly, raw sewage into our streams and our sea.”
As a result of the decision, as a planning authority, the council will call on Southern Water to provide further details about its network when it is consulted on planning applications. This, the motion said, should include details of which treatment works will be managing the sewage from new housing.
QUIZZING THE BOSSES
The motion also looked at inviting the new incoming CEO of Southern Water, plus senior representatives from the Environment Agency and Natural England, to attend a meeting to answer questions on the current levels of sewage discharge; and ask Southern Water, in its planning consultation responses for major development, to clarify which treatment works will be managing the sewage and whether it has information available to assess the impact on the number or duration of sewage discharges into local rivers or seas.
The motion in full called for councillors to recognise the council’s obligation to protect rivers and seas in line with its local strategy and the National Planning Policy Framework; recognise that deterioration of water quality occurs due to cumulative impact of multiple sewage discharge events, or “sewage overload”; ensure an evidence base is compiled that assesses the cumulative impact of sewage discharge so it is factored into decisions made in new iterations of the local plan, including the overall level of future development; better understand the cumulative impact of wastewater discharge including untreated sewage on our local rivers, wildlife and the health of our residents and continue to take a lead on addressing the issue by working constructively with other agencies.
The motion also requested that planning officers include in all relevant reports relating to major development, a specific section on the impact on watercourses, including the potential for the development to affect sewage outflow into watercourses.