Bathers told not to enter water or beach below the high water mark across Thanet coast from Westbrook to Ramsgate due to ‘unscreened’ wastewater spill

Inspection of the beach area around Nayland

Advice for beach users  not to enter the sea or the area of beach below the high water mark has been extended to cover the entire Thanet coastline from Westbrook Bay to the Western Undercliff in Ramsgate.

This follows an unscreened wastewater release today (Tuesday 5 October) by Southern Water as a result of a failure at its Wastewater Pumping Station in Broadstairs.

Initially swimmers were warned against using three – and then five – of the bays at Broadstairs but this has now been updated and signs advising the public not to enter the water are being put in place across the Westbrook to Ramsgate stretch.

Inspections are being undertaken by Southern Water in the affected areas to assess the impact and to ensure the beaches are cleared following the high tide.

Thanet council will continue to monitor the situation closely alongside Southern Water and the Environment Agency.

Leader of Thanet District Council, Councillor Ash Ashbee said: “Incidents of pollution on our beaches are not only unacceptable but should simply not happen. As soon as I was alerted to this latest incident I spoke with Southern Water’s Chief Executive to express my extreme dissatisfaction and find myself yet again asking for an explanation.

“I obviously feel the frustration of local residents and businesses and will continue to push for a longer term and more robust response around the promised improvement and investment in Thanet’s wastewater system. Our coastline and beautiful beaches, arguably our most important natural assets, should not have to sustain continued environmental damage. Rest assured this is a fight I will continue to take to the highest possible level.”

Environment Agency bathing water map

A Southern Water statement this evening said: “Following a fault with pumps at our Broadstairs Wastewater Pumping Station this morning, the resulting wastewater release at Joss Bay was quickly stopped. Our focus this afternoon has been on ensuring the fault doesn’t reoccur and inspection of local beaches to identify, prevent and minimise any impact on the environment.

“Nine beaches have been fully inspected and currently no sign of debris has been found.

“We also wish to reassure customers that we’ve already committed to further ongoing inspections at all these beaches for at least five days, and longer if needed, with immediate clean-ups undertaken if required.

“We are continuing to work with the EA and Thanet District Council to minimise any impact on the environment and provide accurate up to date information to customers. A full investigation will also be undertaken to understand the cause of the fault.

“Southern Water is passionately committed to the environment and part of this is being fully transparent about how we operate. We’re leading the way within the water industry with pollution reporting, and the Beachbouy Bathing Water Portal is part of this. We’re also very heavily invested in cutting pollution incidents, reducing them by 75% by 2025. In Thanet, this includes a first-of-its-kind surface water drainage survey for the area.

“Across the Southern Water region, we’re investing £200 million a year for wastewater assets and environmental protection.”

Photo Frank Leppard

In June beachgoers were advised to stay out of the water at 11 Thanet beaches and bays following a wastewater release at the Southern Water Foreness Wastewater Pumping Station overnight June 16/17 due to a lightning strike and heavy rainfall.

Walpole Bay is also affected according to the Beach Buoys site Photo John Horton

The incident 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.

Warning signs following the waste water discharge in June Photo John Horton

The water company, which Macquarie Asset Management has bought a majority stake in, 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.

Councillors attended a tour of the Foreness pumping station on October 1.

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 after spill in June 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).

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

Last month Southern Water 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 pledge was given by Southern Water chief executive Ian McAulay, at a briefing for Thanet councillors.

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”



  1. So we need to wait four years to see an improvement!!What other industry would have this low bar as a stretch goal.

  2. These cowboys are a complete joke, paying big dividends to shareholders take priority over residents health and safety. The sooner these utilities are returned to public ownership the better!

    • Private ownership of public utilities and infrastructure doesn’t work.
      Rail franchises have failed, to be saved by public ownership companies. The probation service, sold off to private enterprise, has been a disaster; now it’s back under public control. Gas prices and gas supply resilience are shambolic.
      Let’s see these crucially important public services brought back into public control, so that the money we pay in taxes all goes to pay for the services, rather than line the pockets of off-shore investors.

    • Most of the time, the beaches and sea are not “no go areas”. Nor are the towns. Must you always exaggerate and be gloomy, “realist”?

      • These incidents, of foul sewage water being released into out waterways and coastline, are happening so often now. Southern water are not fit for purpose, they should be taken back into public ownership, NOW!

  3. So they say “No pollution is acceptable to us and we have plans in place to cut them by 75% by 2025″. So we’ll still have 25% of the unacceptable incidents. They don’t care do they.

  4. After visiting Viking Bay in the 2nd week of September, I walked and looked down at Stone Bay. The smell of sewage was strong and I could clearly see large amounts of sewage pumping into the sea. People were swimming there.

  5. Its been windy and raining. Good time to bury bad news, or, in this case, empty sewage into the sea, and blame the weather. You can fine these incompetent suits as much as you like. We will just get a water rate increase to bankroll it. Absolutely not fit for purpose

  6. Did SW blame a lightning strike ? or was it something to do with the recent forecasted heavy rain.

    Really needs top level government investigation,compensation to thanet residents and much more. Our councillors rather being there for photo opportunities & soundbites need to act for us !

    It can be sorted out.

    Others will have different opinions, vent then to your elected councillors.

  7. Again, heavy rainfall is likely to blame.
    How on earth is Thanet expected to cope with all the waste water from the new builds the Town Planners want to approve?
    Our chalk based terra firma is not designed for the influx

  8. “Our coastline and beautiful beaches, arguably our most important natural assets, should not have to sustain continued environmental damage” said Cllr Ashbee.
    Yet she supports an environmentally damaging and polluting airport.

  9. Southern Water have known about the Broadstairs fault for years. Why is nothing ever done about it? They’re a disgrace!

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