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Second sewage discharge off Margate beach

A Margate councillor says he's satisfied swimming should not be banned again on local beaches even though it emerged that a second discharge of sewage into the sea had occurred on Sunday.

Cllr Rob Yates, who represents Margate Central, wrote to Southern Water demanding "transparency and the truth."

Cllr Rob Yates
Cllr Rob Yates

He said: "Following the last release on Sunday there was guidance from Southern Water not to go swimming for one day, but this was not copied by Thanet District Council or the Environment Agency.

"Following storm releases it is important that we have clear communications as to whether bathing is allowed, especially so if the Environment Agency is unsure what exactly was released."

An earlier discharge of sewage on June 17 led to Thanet District Council advising residents and visitors not to swim in the sea off Margate Main Sands or Joss Bay at Broadstairs, or the nine other beaches between the two towns.

The other beaches affected were Minnis Bay, West Bay, St Mildred's Bay, Westbrook Bay, Walpole Bay, Palm Bay, Foreness, Botany Bay and Kingsgate Bay.

The ban was lifted on June 23. But since then there has been a second discharge.

Swimming was banned earlier this month as a precaution. Picture Tim Garratt
Swimming was banned earlier this month as a precaution. Picture Tim Garratt

The Environment Agency said: “On Sunday, there was a discharge from the Margate waste-water pumping station. The site has a permit to make discharges to sea during times of heavy rainfall. However, our officers are investigating whether the discharge was compliant with its permit."

It said: "Our current information suggests that the discharge would not have had a significant impact on bathing water quality. However, we take this incident very seriously and will be investigating this alongside the incident which occurred on June 17."

The first discharge on June 17 followed a period of heavy rain and a lightning strike hitting the Foreness Pumping Station.

But following a clean up operation and the passage of time that had allowed the tides to disperse any pollution, the Agency was advising by June 23 that there was a "notable reduction in risk."

The first spill led to campaign group Acorn Margate organising a march that was attended by around 100 people to Foreness, demanding Southern Water take action to prevent further discharges.

The Foreness Waste Water Pumping Station at Margate
The Foreness Waste Water Pumping Station at Margate

Many local business said they were losing money because of the effect on the tourist trade.

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay agreed, saying: "I am increasingly annoyed that whenever we have a downpour, year on year, we have a problem with Southern Water, particularly at Foreness Point in Margate which then blights our blue flag beaches for days."

Southern Water said that the release of waste water into the sea was necessary during periods of heavy rainfall to protect local homes and businesses from flooding.

The company's head of resilience Dr Nick Mills, said a compensation scheme for businesses to claim for lost funds was already available.

The latest discharge was from the company's long sea outfall which is 1.9km off shore and was again a result of heavy rainfall.

Joss Bay beach at Broadstairs was one of those previously affected
Joss Bay beach at Broadstairs was one of those previously affected

A spokesman said it was not an emergency discharge but part of the way sewers are designed to work to protect properties from internal flooding during heavy rainfall.

The Environment Agency confirmed: "The pumping station is permitted, under certain conditions and heavy rainfall, to discharge, sewage, which is screened (removing solids) mixed with the large amounts of rainfall that will enter the combined sewers.

"The discharge is made to sea via a long sea outfall approximately 2km out to sea, and in very heavy rainfall, a short sea outfall approximately 600m out to sea."

Souther Water operates its own BeachBuoy site to warn swimmers when there has been a discharge near a beach. It can visited here.

The Environment Agency said: "Water companies have a legal duty to avoid pollution, acting quickly to reduce any damage that happens as a result of their activities.

"Not all discharges pose a threat to bathing waters, and we provided advice on the risk on this occasion. The second discharge occurred two kilometres out to sea."

Southern Water is due to be sentenced at Canterbury Crown Court later this month for the misuse of storm tanks at 17 of its sites between 2010 and 2015.

In 2016, Southern Water was fined £2m after untreated sewage had polluted the sea at Margate four years earlier.

Anyone who suspects pollution in rivers or seas should call the Environment Agency on 0800 807060.

Read more: All the latest news from Thanet

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