Environment Agency investigation over “untreated sewage” release from Foreness pumping station

Meanwhile Thanet small businesses struggle with 'overzealous' information requirements for Southern Water compensation

Foreness pumping station Photo Rob Yates

The Environment Agency has opened an investigation into the cause of the “unscreened, untreated sewage” that was discharged into the sea from Foreness pumping station in the early hours of June 17 – resulting in the pollution being spread to 11 Thanet beaches and bays.

The incident, which Southern Water says was caused by a lightning strike during the overnight storm, meant advice against going into the sea or the area of beach below the high water mark remained in place for  just over 6 days – finally being lifted on June 23.

Photo John Horton

A statement from the Environment Agency says: “We worked closely with Thanet District Council and Southern Water to advise on the clean up operation and supported Thanet council’s decision to remove warning signs on the morning of June 23. We also removed warnings from our SWIMFO website.

“Due to the time that had elapsed and the number of tidal cycles, by June 23, there was a notable reduction in risk. Following an extensive clean up operation and regular inspections around the coast, the advice for the public not to enter the sea or the area of beach below the high tide mark was lifted.

“We have launched an investigation into the cause of this incident.”

Routine samples were taken from Thanet beaches on June 23-24 and are still undergoing analysis. Results will be published on the SWIMFO website.

Photo John Horton

The release is one of dozens to have taken place over the last four years.

Former councillor Ian Driver today (June 25) revealed that documentation of releases on Southern Water’s website show 154 wastewater releases in Thanet during the three-year period 2017-20.

The majority were directly into the sea from the Broadstairs and Margate pumping stations.

He said: “The combined duration of these spillages was an astonishing 796 hours, or the equivalent of 17 days. But the volume of sewage discharged in this time is not recorded so we will never know just how much raw human waste entered the sea and rivers at Thanet.

“The number of raw sewage spillage incidents in Thanet is on the increase. In 2017 Southern Water recorded 23 incidents, in 2018 30, in 2019 41, and in 2020 60. That’s a 160% increase in just three years.”

The spill report data can be found here

Volunteers from the Friends of Botany Bay and Kingsgate say they are continuing to pick up sanitary towels and wet wipes that are being brought in on the tide and have questioned the decision to lift the advice against bathing without any water quality data.

Ian McAulay, Southern Water’s CEO, said: “This was an exceptional incident caused by a direct lightning strike. We are hugely grateful to Thanet District Council for their work with us. We have agreed to meet the costs the council has incurred as a result of the incident to ensure no additional pressure on the public purse.”

“No pollution is acceptable to our customers and it is not acceptable to Southern Water either. This was an exceptional and unfortunate event and while the incident is still under investigation, Southern Water had prepared well in advance of the predicted heavy rain and thunderstorms last week. We acted on the alarm within minutes of it being activated since we had already deployed standby crews preemptively to site.

Photo Rob Yates

“To protect local homes and businesses from internal flooding from the volume of rain, surface water and wastewater passing through the pumping station at that time meant we had no choice but to make an emergency release.”

He added: “We have invested significantly in making improvements to reduce the risk of future incidents occurring at Margate Pumping Station. We know the local community has been badly affected in the past and to reduce the risks we have invested £10m in the last decade. Another £5.5m will be invested in the site by 2025.”

Southern Water also said businesses can apply for compensation by emailing [email protected] for details.

Warning signs and flags were put on Thanet beaches following the wastewater release Photo Frank Leppard

But Julian Newick from The Lifeboat Ale and Cider House in Margate says the information requested is “overzealous.”

In a response to his email regarding compensation he was asked to provide a list of information including:

Full trading name / legal entity

Business description

Date incorporated (if applicable)

Names of current Directors/business owners

Annual turnover

Number of employees as at 16th June 2021

VAT Status (Registered/Not Registered)

The date of closure following the incident, if applicable, and date of re-opening

Details of the amount claimed

A copy of the most recent available annual accounts including prior year comparative figures

If readily available, a copy of the monthly management accounts for the period June 2019 to June 2021 (and beyond as they become available).

Details of weekly turnover for the period March 2021 to June 2021 and onwards as they become available and also for the same period in 2020.

If management accounts are not readily available, provide details of monthly turnover / sales for the period June 2019 to June 2021 (and beyond as they become available).

Provide a monthly breakdown of the following costs – Consumables, Utilities, Cleaning & Laundry, Employed Staff Costs (to include pension and NI costs etc.) and Agency Staff – Costs for the period June 2019 to June 2021 (and beyond as they become available).

Details of bookings taken/cancelled and any refunds provided

Mr Newick responded by saying the overzealous request for information needs simplifying and added: “We are a small business suffering in many ways. The sewage issue is yet another straw towards breaking the camel’s back.”


  1. Ian McAulay Southern Water CEO says it was as a result of a direct lightning strike on the pumping station, but there is absolutely no evidence of any direct strike, not even a scorch. Why has this not been picked up by the media. It seems that misinformation is being told from the CEO of a major company. Something fishy going on but this needs to stop. The equivalent of 17 days of raw sewage pumped into the sea in Thanet since 2017 is an environmental disaster and it should be outlawed. SW must be brought into the 21st century and build a new sewage treatment plant for Thanet, especially with all the new homes being built in the area.

    • Southern Water have not exercised any duty of care with regard to adequately assessing the implications for disposal of sewage from the huge volume of house building postulated by Thanet Council.This is because Southern Water realise that the Victorian Drainage Systems are already overloaded and they want to minimise capital expenditure to maximise dividends to shareholders

    • I think your right Kent Resident! I have just returned from my GP Surgery a new build, and about the same size as the SWA pumping station and it has a Lightening Rod fitted! As mentioned before, I was a CEGB Engineer on two nuclear power stations, which have back up plant for essential services, and even back up back up back plant! If the National Grid fails then a standby diesel generator at the pumping station should have kicked in within seconds, so why didn’t this happen? Unless for cost cutting reasons, there is no back up generator!

  2. The CEO of Southern Water said “We have agreed to meet the costs the council has incurred as a result of the incident to ensure no additional pressure on the public purse.”
    So does that mean that the shareholders of SW are going to pick up the bill?
    I rather think not.

  3. Why do humans always have such a negative impact on this planet? We put money before happyness. Ok even if the poo, sanitary products, wet wipes etc have now been cleaned up they are still out at sea somewhere! Poor bloody animals again! Southern water need to pay a huge fine to the environment and ensure this time it never happens again. Ever!

    • Humans have done a lot to help other humans. All species concentrate, if the word is applicable, on supporting their own species.

  4. I agree with all of the above. It will be the water payers who foot the bill (watch you’re water bill go up more than normal) and it also sounds like TDC are taking a back hander and saying ‘that is now done no need to do more’ Sorry but something needs to be done about this not only enviromental but dangerous for everyone and everything. I am unable to swim in a swimming pool so when the weather is hot I like to swim in the sea. Not able to now because of this ‘leakage’.

  5. Caused by a lightning strike? It is true that a strike could have caused issues with computers, telemetry etc. What evidence is there of a that? Is this another way of saying it was full & just cant cope?

    • Why the conspiracy? Why can’t you just accept that there was a lightning strike (there was – Ramsgate suffered a 2 hour power cut that night), and that the strike screwed up the telemetry systems controlling the pumps?
      I agree it’s not good enough. But what’s the point in inventing stuff?

  6. Two reasons Andrew, the failure of the pumping station should not have happened! If churches, and other tall building have lightening rods installed, sometimes as an insurance policy requirement, then this building should have had one too! Second, why wasn’t there a back up generator installed to take over the second power failed? Most major installations have these, the nuclear power stations at Dungerness, and other conventional power stations have them, because power stations do not use the power they generate, they need to use power from the national grid! The back up generators at the Isle of Grain oil fired power station (3,660mw) had back up generators that could produce 150mw!!

    • What failed (as I understand it) was not the back up pumps, but the control systems that bring them into operation.
      Sometimes my internet router plays up. The only way to fix it us to turn it off, wait a couple of minutes, and turn it on again.
      I can imagine that a similar sort of thing happend at the pumping station.

  7. Southern Water are BENT just like DEFRA,OFWAT and TDC. They all negate their responsibilities and none of the investigating companies have any inclination to bring these companies to account because they are probably all share holders. The whole damn lot are as a crooked as hell and think the residents are STUPID. This is an indictment of where this country is today……absolutely ROTTEN to the core as their sole interest is money and profit BEFORE people or the environment. God how we have FALLEN. We are a DISGRACE.

  8. Perhaps fewer words in capitals would give a better impression and sound less like a stroppy teenager. Got any impartial evidence for your libellous statements?

    • Well said Marva. No chance whatsoever of any evidence to substantiate the mutterings of this individual .

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