Environmental campaigners hold protest in Brighton, calling for immediate end to sewage dumping

‘We estimate that enough untreated sewage to fill over 3 Olympic swimming pools has been discharged since Christmas and it is putting people’s health at risk.’

Brighton Pier

Today, January 13, the environmental campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) is meeting in Brighton to call for an immediate end to the dumping of sewage at the town’s popular Southwick swimming spot.

The protest comes after it was discovered that, since Christmas, Southern Water has dumped untreated wastewater for around 200 hours.

“We estimate that enough untreated sewage to fill over three Olympic swimming pools has been discharged since Christmas and it is putting people’s health at risk. Yet there have been no warnings posted by Adur Council, Southern Water or the Environment Agency,” said SAS.

The campaigners are calling on Southern Water to end sewage dumping immediately, and for Adur District Council and the Environment Agency to post warnings for swimmers to ‘bathe at own risk.’ SAS is also urging for the Environment Agency to reveal if it has been informed that the wastewater infrastructure is faulty – which is a requirement of the Environmental Permit – and what enforcement action it is taking. Additionally, the campaigners are calling on Adur District Council to immediately start the application process to make Kingston Beach an official designated bathing beach.

In 2022, figures showed that Southern Water dumped sewage into waterways a ‘staggering’ 16,000 times. The water company  admitted that, despite figures for sewage overflows decreasing, it still “isn’t good enough.”

At the time, Liberal Democrat candidate for Lewes, James MacCleary, said: The figures are a damning verdict on the government’s failure to stop Southern Water from dumping sewage into our waterways.

“Local people are furious that our favourite swimming places and precious wildlife habitats have become poisoned with raw sewage. The Conservative government just doesn’t seem to care. I think it’s time the Environment Secretary resigned and was replaced with somebody who actually cares about our rivers and seas.”

In November 2023, Southern Water was under fire again after it was revealed the company’s executives got nearly £600,000 in payouts in 2022. Analysis of Company House records shows the company paid £587,000 in total earnings to its four executives during the financial year 2022/2023.

In July 2023, Southern Water’s chief executive and chief financial officer declined a bonus for the year to March 2023, after calls from campaigners not to award bonuses until water quality improved.

LFF contacted Southern Water for commentary on this weekend’s protest and the campaigners’ calls for an immediate end to the dumping of sewage.

Tom Gallagher, Bathing Water Lead at Southern Water, said: “We share our communities’ passion for our local environment – myself and many of my colleagues live along our beautiful coastline and care deeply about protecting and enhancing these important areas. 

“This is why we are investing heavily in our innovative Clean Rivers and Seas Task Force to reduce storm overflows as quickly as possible, and in our ambitious Turnaround Plan to deliver improvement in our performance across the board.  

“Only through close working with partners like councils, regulators, the agricultural and industrial sectors, and environmental groups, we will be able to deliver the results our customers and environment deserve.” 

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Tamaphotography – Pixabay

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