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Environment Agency to launch investigation into Southern Water spillage in Thanet

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Southern Water is being investigated by the Environment Agency over a summer spillage on Thanet's shores.

A lightning strike in June caused a power failure at the firm's Foreness pumping station, causing raw sewage to be dumped into the sea.

Advice against swimming is still in place - nine days after the spill by Southern Water
Advice against swimming is still in place - nine days after the spill by Southern Water

It resulted in the closure of 11 beaches across the Thanet coast, with the district council receiving £100,000 from Southern Water in compensation.

The Environment Agency is investigating the spillage and will decide what action to take after, with a criminal prosecution an option open to it.

A spokesman said: “The Environment Agency is investigating the release of sewage from Southern Water’s Foreness pumping station on 16 June.

"Once we have completed our investigations, we will decide on what further action is appropriate.

“As this is an ongoing investigation we can't comment any further at this time.We take our responsibility to protect the environment very seriously.

"Water companies have a legal duty, to avoid pollution and must act quickly to reduce any damage that happens as a result of their activities."

The news comes after Southern Water confirmed that, after another power outage in Thanet on October 5, more waste water was spilled into the sea.

Swimmers were advised against bathing on 14 beaches days after an "unscreened wastewater release" at a pumping station in Broadstairs.

Contractors from the water firm carried out beach inspections every day to assess the impact of the spill and Thanet District Council officers conducted visual inspections.

The advice was lifted at 13 of the 14 beaches yesterday, and at the final one - Joss Bay in Broadstairs - today.

The sea at beaches in Broadstairs has been off limits
The sea at beaches in Broadstairs has been off limits

Leader of the council Ash Ashbee (Con) says she is happy the council has received some compensation from the company for the June issue, but is frustrated by yet more spillages, revealing the council was not notified of the latest incident.

She said: “My understanding is an electrical failure occurred at 8.45am and a back-up generator was not working.

“Due to the need for a qualified electrician to isolate the problem the site could not come back online until 10.30am.

“During that period unscreened waste water was discharged into the sea. The council was not notified of this discharge by Southern Water, and [it was] in fact identified by a Thanet officer.

“As I’ve said previously, this is totally unacceptable and simply should not have happened.

“Any organisation that relies on a power supply to operate any vital part of their infrastructure should have back-ups that are fully tested and ready for operation."

Cllr Ashbee has asked for MPs to speak on the issue in Parliament and says the council has sent letters to the Environment Agency on the issue.

In July, Southern Water was given a record £90 million fine having dumped 21 billion litres of sewage between 2010 and 2015.

Earlier this week, the company's chief executive, Ian McAuley, confirmed “heads rolled” as he was grilled on the spillages by a committee of MPs.

Responding to Cllr Ashbee, Labour Leader Cllr Rick Everitt said: “Like many members I went on a recent tour of Southern Water’s pumping station in Cliftonville and I don’t question the good intention of some of the staff working there.

“Unfortunately, it felt pretty pointless. A few days later there was another system failure, yet another sewage discharge, and the council wasn’t even notified.

“I don’t even know what we can do as elected members, but the public certainly needs to know the council shares its frustration.”

Green Paraty leader Cllr Mike Garner says news of another spillage came as a “slap in the face”.

Thanet District Council leader Cllr Ash Ashbee
Thanet District Council leader Cllr Ash Ashbee

He said: “After the sewage leak in June caused by a power failure, we listened to Ian McAuley and his team, who promised to urgently improve the situation.

“He told us it was a priority for him. And yet here we are, a couple of months down the line, another power failure at another of their pumping stations.

“It’s almost as if they’re doing all they can to make life as difficult as possible for us and the people of Thanet.

“Mr McAuley and his team need to be made to pay for this continuous negligence, which allows our coastlines to be destroyed, while their shareholders collect dividends.

“While I am happy a criminal investigation is underway, we certainly need to seek a larger recompense from them than the £100,000 we got last time.

Cllr Ashbee says the council will be seeking further damages from Southern Water, but any amount is unlikely to be in the millions.

She said: “I would love to take them to court but this council can’t afford to do that - I’ll leave that to the Environment Agency.

“Unfortunately they’re the ones that get the £90 million that went into the coffers last time and it doesn’t disseminate back into the district authorities that actually suffer."

Read more: All the latest news from Thanet

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