Southern Water pledges made during briefing with Thanet councillors

Foreness pumping station Photo Rob Yates

Southern Water has agreed to commission a full drainage survey of Margate and the surrounding areas in order to improve resilience of Foreness Point pumping station. The survey, estimated to come at a cost of some £400,000, will record all of the water pathways that contribute surface water and rain water to the drainage system. It will also assess the amount of water which is added to the system during storm periods.

The aim is to reduce runoff reaching the treatment works and reduce the risk of emergency spills.

The update was given by Southern Water chief executive Ian McAulay, at a briefing for Thanet councillors held tonight (September 13).

This was in response to a number of waste release incidents including  “unscreened, untreated sewage” being 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.

Warning signs following the waste water discharge Photo John Horton

The incident, which Southern Water says was caused by a lightning strike resulting in a power outage during an 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.

During the meeting it was also agreed to implement a number of action points previously drawn up during a meeting between Margate councillor Rob Yates, representatives of natural beauty business Haeckels and Walpole Bay Swimmers and Environment Agency senior officer Peter Ehmann.

Cllr Yates said there will now be a bathing water task force with the first meeting planned for November 3 and he revealed the Environment Agency is planning to test water quality in the Walpole Bay tidal pool directly for next year, rather than tests being carried out further to the west.

The meeting was also told that Southern Water has paid the combined Rotary in Thanet for an innovative installation to collect plastic waste and given donations to volunteer groups Friends of Botany Bay and Rise Up Clean Up for their help with litter picking.

The water company, which Macquarie Asset Management bought a majority stake in last month, has paid £100,000 compensation to Thanet council and paid £16,000 to 16 of the 36 Thanet businesses who submitted claims for impact on trade after the sewage release in June. A number of other businesses also have claims for compensation being assessed currently.

Cllr Yates is a keen swimmer Photo Benjamin Eagle

Cllr Yates, who is a keen sea swimmer, said: “Two key questions were asked tonight. The first was by Cllr Mike Garner, he asked how long will we have to wait until we get an upgrade to the Foreness pumping station, given we are already having serious sewage issues and the 17,000 new houses planned by the Conservative government in Thanet.

“This was not answered, but Southern Water have commissioned a full drainage survey which should guide that answer.

“The second question (which I asked) was whether Southern Water is currently achieving the permitted pumping levels of 809 litres per second at Margate pumping station. This to my knowledge is a legal requirement and if they cannot pump at this speed then Southern Water can/will be fined. High pumping speeds are needed to pump the sewage to the treatment centre and therefore reduce the backlog of sewage at the pumping station. This reduces the likelihood of CSO sewage discharge. This question could not be answered either although a response is expected in a week’s time.

“One small positive is that Southern Water confirmed that the bathing water working group, or task force, is now back up and running with the first meeting planned in November.

“I hope that Thanet council plays a strong role in this group to ensure that Southern Water is both complying with existing legal requirements and planning an upgrade to the station. The people of Thanet need answers.”

Thanet council leader Ash Ashbee, who wrote a scathing letter to Southern Water bosses following the spill in June, said: ““Following the lightning strike at Southern Water’s wastewater pumping station at Foreness Point on Wednesday 16 June, I wrote to and met with the Chief Executive and Senior Directors to understand exactly what happened and what mitigation measures can be put in place to ensure the district is not exposed to that risk again.

“I understand the strength of feeling on this matter and am aware that many residents and businesses in Thanet are looking for the company to be held to account.

“This evening, the Chief Executive of Southern Water, Ian McAulay, and the Director of Environment & Corporate Affairs Dr Toby Willison, provided elected members with a further update following the incident and answered their questions.

“In addition to funds already offered to local businesses in compensation for loss of business, Southern Water has agreed to commission a full drainage survey of Margate and the surrounding areas in order to improve the long term resilience of Foreness Point.

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

“This survey will establish and record all of the water pathways that contribute surface water and rain water to the combined drainage system. It will also assess the amount of water which is added to the system during storm periods. The aim is to reduce runoff reaching the treatment works and therefore substantially reduce the risk of emergency spills. Southern Water estimates that this survey will cost in the region of £400,000.

“I will continue to seek assurances that Southern Water’s investment plan in Thanet is sufficient to ensure resilience in the area. I want the priorities of Thanet residents and businesses to be both heard and understood and in turn know that the company has a plan that addresses their concerns.

“Furthermore, by working closely with our MPs and using our collective powers and influence, I will continue to scrutinise Southern Water to ensure they deliver on their commitments.”

Councillors have been invited to tour the Foreness pumping station on October 1.

Ian McAulay, Southern Water’s CEO, said: “We are pleased our offer to support the local community, local businesses and the environment has been accepted by Thanet District Council and that councillors fed back positively about our discussions. We recognise the expectations and opinions of society have significantly changed in recent years and that the emergency process, which is integral to the current system to protect homes and businesses from flooding, is one people feel very strongly about.

“This drainage survey signals the start of a closer working relationships which will benefit our customers, the environment and the local economy.”

Photo Frank Leppard

The Environment Agency is investigating a further waste release from Foreness on June 27.

In July Southern Water was fined a record £90million for illegally dumping raw sewage into the sea.

During a sentencing hearing at Canterbury Crown Court, it was heard the water company pumped an estimated 16bn to 21bn litres of untreated sewage into protected waters around the south coast.

Southern Water faced 51 sewage pollution charges which took place between 2010 and 2015.

The case was said to be the biggest ever brought by the Environment Agency after sewage was released across the south coast from 16 Wastewater treatment works and one sewer overflow.

Also in July an Environment Agency report on the environmental performance of England’s nine water and sewerage companies concluded Southern Water requires improvement with pollution incidents “consistently unacceptable.”

Clean up operation Photo Frank Leppard

Since 2011 the EA has used the Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA), which rates each company in England from 1 star to 4 star, for performance on environmental commitments such as pollution incidents and treatment work compliance. Where these commitments are not achieved, companies will face underperformance penalties, with Ofwat having new powers to levy fines from 2020.

Southern Water and South West Water were rated as 2 star (requiring improvement).

Thanet bathing water action plan put forward in bid to stop waste pollution on our coast

Environment Agency report brands Southern Water’s performance as “consistently unacceptable”

Advice not to swim at 11 Thanet beaches still in place as council leader sends scathing letter to Southern Water


  1. Ridiculous of course SW would say that. The facts tell the truth they are water poisoners they have been doing that for years that’s why they were fined a record £ 90,million surveys will not stop mismanagement and incompetence or the waters around our coast from being polluted again and again by a totally dishonest load of jokers. What are our MPs or those so- called “environmentalists” who moan and groan about Manston Airport reopening yet we here nothing from Dawes or her group of moaners about SW poisoning the water.

    • My “Moan” is that SWA never tested for POP chemicals subject of UN Stockholm Convention. I rather think I proved my point in 2019 by calling in DEFRA Drinking water inspectorate to secure ban on Manston aquifer as a public water supply source.

      My beef with Ms DAWES, Karen CONSTANTINE and “SONIK” is that I alleged they all breached High Court disclosure rules … to conceal the obscenity of the empty TDC contaminated land register.

      I also have a beef with “SONIK” lawyers LEIGH DAY re their representation for bereaved at Maternity Tragedy Inquests where I allege they, contrary to Inquest Common Law, concealed the facts (They already concealed from Stroke Unit judicial review) That issue with Solicitor Regulation Authority (Alongside complaint against TDC currently absent solicitor) is complicated as SRA know there is a Terrorism Law aspect that they want Kent Chief constable to lead on.

      The Rumfields water supply aquifer was banned from use in 1993 and remains so for foreseeable future.

      With the chemical contamination and health risk facts emerging to TDC officers since 1987 it is amazing QEQM extension and Westwood Cross were ever built. The Zulus who sued THOR WMD chemicals for Cato Ridge must have been amazed by the forelock tugging bellycrawling apathy of the Thanet beasties.

      “They are building new hospital opposite Thor chemicals factory … Mad Dogs and Thanet men ….. ” “And they launder their clothes in the ground water mad dogs and Thanet men”

    • You are suffering from Pillockism Bill, SWA polluting our coastline has nothing to do with Manston reopening, true should it reopen it too would have a devastating affect on Thanet with air and noise pollution! I still would like to know who paid the £90 million Fine, the illustrious MP for North Thanet claims it was the share holders, but did they?

      Get help for your Pillockism Bill. Oh! Nearly forgot, what happens if the survey shows the present sewage system in Thanet can’t cope with an extra 17,000 new dwellings the Tories are forcing Thanet to build? Also, due to climate change large parts of the world have suffered devastating floods, with monthly, or more rainfall falling in hours! Is this being taken into consideration also?

  2. The Government has just told water companies that they can dump untreated sewage in the sea if delivery truck problems mean they don’t have enough treatment chemicals.

  3. Why spend £400,000 telling us what we already know i.e. the pumping station is inadequate and needs upgrading?
    Spend the money instead on actually improving it, not finding an excuse to do nothing!

  4. So will Pegwell Outfall be investigated?

    Will the land be tested for Manston and GEC toxic contaminants?

    Were there no representatives of Kirkup Inquiry there?

    Did the Environment Agency not mention its current duty to enforce United Nations Stockholm Convention?

    Did Ash Ashbee (Determinedly ignoring correspondence) not even mention direct water abstraction licences such as K Laundry and Newlands Farm ?

    In 1991 Ted Dyke, environmentalist encouraged by Cllr Tony OVENDEN, reported mercury deposits found around North Foreland. TDC officers, contrary to Environmental Protection Act 1990, refused to investigate. The area needs TDC to be fully and historically investigated. Just a few years after that refusal to investigate TDC officers lied to Cllrs to conceal SERICOL massive contamination of water supply aquifer. It was 2008 Cllrs realised they had been lied to and did NOTHING about the officers who, at that material time, were scamming to dodge environmental and water supply risk assessment for Bretts. And who had dodged the same matters to scam 2006 local plan for Manston aviation only. 2009, aided and abetted by Dr Ladymans indifference to constituency issues, the TDC cover up continued. Ladyman had appointed a blogger as his envoy to TDC. And the lies re GEC and Sericol toxic environmental contamination were sustained whilst cllrs stayed silent.

  5. Thanks to vigorous public complaint and exposure of this private company’s illegal acts, the Environment Agency was forced to act – and did they act! But the problems will continue if water supply and sewage disposal are in the hands of private companies, whose prime objective is to make profit. Now SW is dominated by another speculator compan knows nothing about water. They want to extract profits not water. Which raises a further question about SW: how will Thanet’s expanding population be supplied with water,in the future, as it is possible we are exhausting the only supply, the aquifer?

    • The water supply issue was reported and Local Plan Inspector called for reports from TDC and SWA. I gave time for TDC and SWA to commit to reports 2019 before I called in DEFRA Drinking Water Inspectorate to secure a ban on further use of Manston aquifer as a drinking water source. Rumfields aquifer was banned as a public water source 1993 after 30 years of undetected massive contamination with CYCLOHEXANONE and allegedly POLYCHLORINATED BI PHENYLS. Why K Laundry and Newlands Farm were still allowed direct water abstractions ? Good question as the contaminants are both absorbable through skin.

      Environment Agency depts do not speak to each other. The Drinking Water Inspectorate, the UN Stockholm Convention enforcers and the Polychlorinated Bi Phenyl licensing and disposal dept. With the latter the issue is that GEC buried toxic PCBs waste in drums in Tunnels at Westwood. And alleged sealed the tunnel with concrete. (For PCBs great escapers concrete is akin to trying to stop wasps by a chain link fence) So the PCBs section at Environment Agency say “Ground contamination” is not their jurisdiction. (They don’t name whose responsibility at EA is. I conjecture it is UN Stockholm Convention enforcers) BUT I argue storage of toxic waste in a structure is “Industrial Storage” that should have been notified by TDC such as in planning for Westwood Cross and QEQM extension.

  6. Environment Agency = Empty Answers. Southern Water = Pollution. Survey =. this might take some years to complete.
    Don’t expect a quick result. Might never be done.

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