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Hundreds protest in Whitstable against Southern Water discharging sewage into sea


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Hundreds of people have gathered to protest against sewage being discharged into the sea.

The march is taking place in Whitstable following safety and environmental concerns regarding Southern Water's discharges of waste water.

Hundreds of people have marched in Whitstable to call for Southern Water to stop discharging sewage into the sea. Picture: SOS Whitstable
Hundreds of people have marched in Whitstable to call for Southern Water to stop discharging sewage into the sea. Picture: SOS Whitstable

People living in the area have frequently been warned against entering the water following regular polluting of the sea - including a "channel of sewage" seen in a video posted on social media.

Today's protest is organised by campaign group Save Our Seas Whitstable, which was launched two months ago to campaign against the "endless" pollution.

At 1pm, protestors marched from Tankerton to the Southern Water treatment plant in Swalecliffe.

They were seen holding home-made placards and banners, bearing messages such as "stop dumping sewage Southern Water" and "end sewage pollution".

SOS Whitstable encouraged those taking part in the march to "wear red, be loud, be proud".

The march will be followed by a range of talks from guest speakers, at 2pm.

Green Party peer and former leader Natalie Bennett will be speaking at the event, along with CEO of Surfers Against Sewage Hugo Tagholm, and Whitstable author and activist Julie Wassmer.

The Whitstable coastline has been blighted by a wave of waste water releases this month, after the area was battered by heavy rain.

One discharge from the Swalecliffe Wastewater Treatment Works lasted for more than 16 hours.

Earlier this week, Thanet District council issued advice not to enter the sea at 14 beaches in nearby Thanet after an "unscreened waste water release" by Southern Water.

A still from a live video of today's march, on SOS Whitstable's Facebook page. Picture: Facebook/@SOSWhitstable
A still from a live video of today's march, on SOS Whitstable's Facebook page. Picture: Facebook/@SOSWhitstable

It comes after Southern Water was slapped with a record £90 million fine in July, after unleashing up to 21 billion litres of sewage into protected water between 2010 and 2015.

A public meeting was called in August at St John’s Centre, Swalecliffe, where Southern Water was grilled about releases from its Swalecliffe treatment works.

Two directors said about £16 million would be spent to improve the site.

Campaigners are calling for Southern Water to take urgent action to tackle the pollution, amid fears sea swimmers are falling ill.

SOS Whitstable says it has received multiple reports of people falling sick after swimming in the sea.

Southern Water's treatment works in Swalecliffe near Whitstable, which has been a source of misery for many residents after a number of releases
Southern Water's treatment works in Swalecliffe near Whitstable, which has been a source of misery for many residents after a number of releases

One founding member, Elane Heffernan, says she is “afraid” to go in the water after falling ill.

“I have a disability and health condition, which makes swimming quite difficult, but I have been sick twice after swimming,” she said.

“One time at the beginning of August I didn’t realise there had been a release and for three days I had horrid symptoms. The second time was a couple of days after a release in September."

A spokesman for Southern Water said previously: “Across the country sewer systems were built connected to surface water drains in order to protect homes from flooding.

“In heavy or intense rain the Environment Agency permits waste water companies to release this rainfall in order to protect homes, schools and businesses from flooding and ensure customers can use their toilets, showers and washing machines as normal.”

SOS Whitstable protest at Tankerton beach last month against Southern Water waste water and sewage releases. Picture: Tom Banbury @tombanbury
SOS Whitstable protest at Tankerton beach last month against Southern Water waste water and sewage releases. Picture: Tom Banbury @tombanbury

They said Southern Water’s Beachbuoy service alerts water users when there are releases and some 98% of its outfalls are now covered with sensors and telemetry.

“Public awareness of storm releases is growing and there are increasing calls for the highly regulated practice to end,” they added.

“We support these calls and have adopted a pioneering approach.

“While simply separating all sewers from surface drains would be a hugely expensive and disruptive process, we believe that a partnership approach is the best way forward.

“Regulation on sustainable drainage must be changed so rainwater separation is built into all new construction. Investment in natural capital such as enhanced and expanded wetlands will be key.”

Read more: All the latest news from Whitstable

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