Celebrities joined forces with Kent protestors during a rally against sewage spills on the county’s coastline.
Singer Feargal Sharkey and comedian Paul Whitehouse were among the famous faces at a demonstration organised by SOS Whitstable this afternoon to draw attention to Southern Water’s discharging practices in Tankerton.
The group says the seaside town suffered more sewage released than any other location in Kent last year, and it also found that, as of September 10 this year, there had been 591 hours of sewage dumped in the sea over 160 separate times.
Campaigners gathered on the slopes adorned with a series of colourful placards to hear a series of speeches and musical performances.
Undertones frontman Feargal, who has long called for greater regulation of water companies, addressed the large crowds, telling them politicians must take account of what “you, the voter, instruct them to do”, adding “We collectively have had enough”.
Speaking before the event, SOS Whitstable member Ed Acteson said: “Sewage pollution continues to be a scourge in our town and Southern Water should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to put the environment, public health and local businesses at risk in this way.
“We do not believe that Southern Water are going far enough or fast enough in their efforts to end sewage pollution in Whitstable and restore the reputation of our town, which suffered more sewage releases than any other bathing location in Kent in 2022.
“Despite regular promises of action by Southern Water, industry regulators and the Government, we do not feel that sufficient progress is being made on this issue and, as such, are compelled to protest again in Whitstable.”
Using Beachbuoy, Southern Water’s water quality reporting website, campaigners discovered the water firm released 648 hours of sewage, across 208 occasions, into the sea at Whitstable in 2022.
This is not the first year SOS Whitstable have taken to protesting, with last years event on Whitstable beach attracting more than 2,000 demonstrators.
Campaigners hope today’s action can highlight the impact sewage spills are having on the local community.
Mr Acteson added: “Our town suffered the most storm overflow releases in Kent in 2022 and, with three months of the year left, have already nearly surpassed last year’s total number of hours of sewage released.
“The negative impact of this is felt by the environment, public health and local businesses, who continue to suffer under the weight of the reputational damage inflicted on Whitstable.”
The group wants to see firmer punishments for non-compliant water companies as well as seeing sustained investments on infrastructure paid for by company shareholders.
Whitstable is one of Southern Water’s six project areas to look at with solutions for storm overflows, with a number of interventions underway aiming to cut them by 20 per cent by 2025.
Storm overflows are designed to be used to release excess water through outputs to rivers and seas when heavy rain puts pressure on sewer networks which could lead to flooding.
Dr Nick Mills, Southern Water’s head of clean rivers and seas task force, said Whitstable was at the “forefront” of work being done to cut the use of storm overflows.
An example given was through installing sustainable drainage schemes like tree pits and rain gardens alongside a £25 million upgrade to Swalecliffe Wastewater Treatment Works.
Dr Mills said: “We understand the concerns being raised in Whitstable about water quality, and share our communities’ passion for protecting and enhancing the health of our rivers and seas.
“This is why we’re investing significant money and resources, optimising our assets and using innovative technology and natural solutions to divert or slow the flow of water entering our sewers – and significantly reduce the use of storm overflows.”
It is understood one of the reasons for more sewage releases this year is due to the wetter weather compared to last year.
Dr Mills added: “We are working closely with several partners across a range of sectors, all of which have a role in improving the management of water and water quality, to tackle this issue head on. Only through collaboration will we achieve the results we all want.”