Southend MP’s secure new commitment from water company to resolve 75% of CSO (combined storm-overflow) discharges by 2030, five years ahead of Government’s statutory target of 2035
Anna Firth, MP for Southend West, held a packed public meeting on Friday, 28th July at Southend’s Sealife Adventure Zooquarium to challenge local water company Anglian Water over excessive use of storm overflows in the Southend area.
There have been 15 beach aware alerts issued since Firth’s last water summit on 31st of March, which Firth branded “completely unacceptable”.
The water summit, which was held in collaboration with Sir James Duddridge MP, for Rochford and Southend East, saw both Firth and Sir James on a panel alongside Dr Robin Price, Director of Quality and Environment at Anglian Water as well as 6 further representatives from Anglian Water and 2 from Essex and Suffolk Water.
The meeting provided a unique opportunity for key local groups such as Southend against Sewage, Surfers against Sewage, The Bluetits Chill Swimmers and local councillors from all parties, to challenge Anglian Water in person about recent sewage discharges into the estuary.
Ofwat, who attended the first water summit, were invited to attend but failed to do so, or give any apologies for their absence which Firth branded “very disappointing”.
The summit which lasted one hour and 45 minutes proved to be a major breakthrough for the campaigning MPs and local groups.
Dr Price agreed that any overflow is unacceptable and that Anglian Water’s mission is to eradicate them all.
Firth specifically pushed Dr Price to improve on the Government’s target of tackling high priority storm overflows by 2035, a timeframe which she described as “completely unacceptable to anybody in this room.”. In response, Dr Price confirmed that Anglian Water have a new ambition to reduce 75% of storm overflow use across Southend by 2030 instead.
To the delight of all present, Dr Price also announced that it is Anglian Water’s ambition to make Southend-on-Sea an “international exemplar for surface water management.
The summit also revealed that there is major confusion about the various different forms of over-flow alert systems. Currently, storm over-flow alerts go out automatically from Anglian Water, the Environment Agency and from Surfers Against Sewage, all giving different information and different timescales for beach safety. Confidence in Anglian Water’s alert system was further eroded by the revelation that that 30% of the email over-flow “beach alerts” are false alarms!
A major win was Anglian Water agreeing to have a separate meeting with all interested parties to work towards a single version of the truth for beach users, water sports and sailing clubs. Leigh Town Councillor, Paul Gilson, pointed out that “alerts need to be accurate and from one source only. They also need to be about what is happening not what might happen”.
Anglian Water confirmed that it aims to eliminate all false alerts from the 1st January and that the ambition is to be able to see within an hour if a CSO has been used.
Firth also suggested that Anglian Water write to Southend’s many sailing and water-sports clubs to encourage better uptake of their email “beach alert” system.
Anglian Water were keen to point out that in this 5 year period, £800 million has been spent on improving waterways management with £200 million being spent directly on storm over-flows including £162 million in Southend alone on storm tanks and permeable pavements.
The summit was hailed as a “fantastic initiative” by a local business owner, Penelope Allard, and a representative from Surfers against Sewage, Helen Shine pointed out that “you don’t get this anywhere else around the country. We are leading the way here in Southend-on-Sea, our new city” a sentiment echoed by Sir James Duddridge in his own opening remarks when he described the event as “unprecedented.”
The next water summit will take place in around 3-months time at Anglian Water Services sewage treatment works in Stock Road by which time Anglian Water’s official storm over-flow reduction plan will be available as well as specific 2023 data covering all 17 of Southend’s storm over-flows.
Following the summit, Anna Firth MP said:
“Today’s second water summit was a huge success and I am particularly delighted with Anglian Water’s public commitment to eliminating 75% of all use of storm over-flows in Southend by 2030, 5 years ahead of the Government’s national target. I think this shows the power of grassroots engagement and accountability on these critical issues”.
“It was also fantastic that Anglian Water came to the meeting so well-prepared and with a clear ambition to make Southend an international exemplar for waste management”.
“I am very grateful to our fantastic community groups and councillors for giving up so much of their time to engage on this critical issue. The passion that all Southenders show for improving every aspect of our new City is inspiring and is already showing results. I would urge other parts of the country to engage with their water companies in a similar mature and constructive fashion”.
Sir James Duddridge KCMG MP said:
“It was fantastic to see such a wide group of stakeholders brought together to discuss an essential issue for our seaside City and is a model for how community engagement should be done across the country.”
“For Anglian Water to be available to answer the open and robust questions that were fielded today, and to come prepared with informed and productive feedback, ensures that the actions taken to eliminate the use of storm overflows in Southend will be fully linked up with the concerns of the community.”
“Firm commitments were made not just to meet, but to exceed the storm overflow reduction targets set by the Government, and future public meetings of the kind held today will be key to meeting these commitments.”
Shah Haider from Southend Against Sewage said:
“Its good that we’re here, we’ve heard from Anglian water and they will be back again another time. What it means for us is we were able to start working with other groups to see how we can improve the public safety and health of Southend so that more people can enjoy the beaches and the wildlife can also be protected.”
A copy of the minutes from the meeting can be found below.