Anna Firth, MP for Southend West, held a packed public meeting on Friday, 27th October at Leigh-on-Sea Sailing Club to continue to hold local water company Anglian Water to account over the use of storm overflows in the Southend area. Between January and September of this year, there have been a combined total of 45 spills from the 14 storm overflows in Southend West, which Firth branded “completely unacceptable”. The water summit, which was chaired by Anna Firth featured a panel including Dr Robin Price, Director of Quality and Environment at Anglian Water as well as nine further representatives from Anglian Water as well as two representatives from Southend City Council and two from ECAS, who specialise in Environmental Compliance. 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 sewage discharges into the estuary. Both Ofwat, and the Environment Agency were invited to attend, however, they were unable to send a representative, and Firth has pledged to “re-double her efforts” to secure their attendance at the next summit.
The summit which lasted one hour, and 45 minutes provided another major breakthrough for the campaigning MP and local groups. Dr. Price re-affirmed his comments from the previous water summit that any overflow is unacceptable and that Anglian Water’s mission is to eradicate them all. Price went on to detail Anglian Water’s new business plan which includes £9 billion worth of investment across the region, which will deliver 7,000 new jobs. £104 million of that investment is being put into Southend as part of Anglian Water’s ambition to make Southend-on-Sea an “international exemplar for surface water management.” Another win secured by the Southend West MP saw confirmation that from 1st January, Southend residents will be able to access near real time reporting of these incidents through Anglian Water’s website, with Price being “very confident that Anglian Water will be able to report and verify spills within one hour of them happening.” Anglian Water also committed to pilotthe testing of water all year round in Southend, rather than just during the bathing season (15 May to 30 September). Anna Firth also pushed Anglian Water to re-confirm their commitment to ending the use of storm overflows by 2030, with firth promising to “keep the pressure on Anglian Water to race towards that target and beat it”. Shah Haider from Southend Against Sewage, hailed the commitment from Anglian Water to test water quality all year round, as a “real step in the right direction”. The summit was also welcomed by Green Party Councillor, Richard Longstaff, who said “there are some key outcomes from today which are really positive to take forward to the next meeting”, and Chloe Peck, a representative from the charity River Action, praised the summit and the “difference that is being made” through its meetings. The next water summit will take place in around 3-months time and in the meantime, Firth will continue to hold Anglian Water and other stakeholders to account, to ensure they deliver on their commitments.
Anna Firth MP said: I am delighted to have secured even more commitments on sewage from Anglian Water for the people of Southend and Leigh-on-Sea. The huge investment by Anglian Water will make us an international exemplar for surface water management and help to deliver the reduction in sewage spills that my constituents desperately deserve. The commitment to monitor our water year round and to roll out a ‘near real time’ alert system by January 2024 is a fantastic step forward, but there is much work still to be done. We must continue to hold Anglian Water’s feet to the fire to deliver their sewage discharge reduction target ahead of their schedule in 2030. There is no doubt that by working together, we are winning on this vital issue for our city.