Two public demonstrations to be held in Thanet to protest at continued waste releases by Southern Water

SONIK has organised a protest in Margate

Two public demonstrations to protest at the release of unscreened wastewater into the sea across Thanet beaches and bays will be held this month.

The protests follow failures at Southern Water pumping stations which have led to warnings to stay out of the water. The current warning, which Thanet council hopes to lift before the weekend, has been in place since October 5 after a failure at the Broadstairs pumping station.

It is hoped it will be removed in time for the final Tech Race of paddle-boarding’s GBSUP National Series due to be held at Viking Bay on Saturday (October 16).

The Viking Bay Classic is scheduled to be staged in partnership with Kent Surf School and Kent SUP Racing.

In June advice was issued against swimming at 11 Thanet beaches after a wastewater release from the Foreness pumping station. There have also been numerous combined sewer outflows affecting water quality.

Following the release in June protesters marched from the Thanet council offices in Margate to the Southern Water pumping station at Foreness to show their anger over the pollution.

Wastewater release protest at the Margate pumping station Photo Frank Leppard

A huge protest was also held in Whitstable this month where residents have also been angered by the waste releases along their coastline areas.


The first Thanet protest is being co-ordinated by health campaigners from Save Our NHS in Kent and will be held on the steps by Margate harbour on Saturday, October 23.

Save Our NHS In Kent (SONIK) are calling for the water company to be brought back under public ownership and to be made directly accountable for their impact on health and the environmental.
A spokesperson for SONIK said: “Year after year Southern Water has pumped raw sewage into the sea off the coast of Kent. These poisonous discharges pose an enormous risk to public health — they must be stopped.”

Campaigners are highlighting the risks to health from the releases, saying: “Sewage contains a host of bugs and parasites, including campylobacter, salmonella, E-coli and listeria, which can not only make people ill but also may kill them.”

Photo Rebecca Douglas

A SONIK spokesperson said: “In July we learnt in court that the company wilfully and knowingly discharged untreated sewage into the sea 7,000 times between 2010- 2015. More than that, we also found out that they tried to cover up what they’d done, concealing important documents from the Environmental Agency’s investigators and trying to stop them entering treatment facilities. As a result the company was fined a record £90 million.

“This is the most appalling and disgusting form of criminal capitalism and must be stopped. And it’s absolutely not enough to just fine them — water companies like Southern Water are private monopolies and make huge profits. The fines are nothing to them. This company and others like them, should be taken under public control immediately and be held directly accountable for the impact of their actions on our health and environment.”
Those joining the demonstration, which will take place from noon, are asked to bring banners, placards or posters.

Karen Constantine

A second demonstration, this time in Ramsgate, is being organised by the town’s Kent County Councillor Karen Constantine.

She has called for the demo to take place at the Western Undercliff beach on Saturday, October 30 from noon-1pm.

She said: “Western Undercliff is a very popular area for many of Ramsgate’s sea swimmers, and in particular the Mermads group who swim all year round. More than 140 people now belong to the Mermads and this is a great way of encouraging people into physical activity, socialising and ensuring better safety. Mermads has helped to provide necessary winter swimming kit and open water sea swimming lessons. People from all over Thanet come to join in. The health benefits and the social connections made are invaluable, especially through the Covid lock downs.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that we are unable to swim due to continued sewerage outages. Southern Water still hasn’t agreed to a public meeting in Ramsgate despite several requests. My question is are they afraid of meeting the public? What are they hiding?

“We are aware of people now ‘risking it’ swimming with their heads above the water and also people swimming who are unaware of the pollution and the risks.

Ramsgate ‘Mermads’

“I’m now going to raise this matter at the next full county council meeting to see what KCC leader Roger Gough and head of Kent environment can do to force Southern Water to meet the people that pay their bills, and to improve our seas and to protect our environment. We also want regular independent tests funded by KCC to ensure the water quality. Public confidence in South Water is faltering.

“Southern Water is now owned by Australian infrastructure bank Macquarie which has just bought a majority state which cost more that £1billion. This is a failure of privatisation. We need our water to belong to everyone and not just those that can make a profit, in this case, a profit from our misery at not being able to use our waters.

“We are calling for support from paddleboarders, kayakers and everyone who uses or enjoys the sea.”

Photo Rebecca Douglas

Signs advising people not to enter the sea or the area below the high water mark are currently displayed on the affected beaches between Westbrook Bay and the Western Undercliff in Ramsgate.

Thanet council leader Cllr Ash Ashbee has also called for another meeting with Southern Water.

She said: “Every day we continue to advise people against swimming in our waters is quite frankly a day too long. Being forced into a position where we have to ask bathers, water sports enthusiasts and even businesses not to go about their normal activities on the grounds of safety, is simply unacceptable.

“I have again called for a meeting with Southern Water executives to express my strongest dissatisfaction and to understand exactly when things are going to improve. It’s encouraging to know that discussions are underway at a national level on these issues, but my priority is to the residents and businesses in Thanet, and I say enough is enough. I will ensure that our voices are heard once again and will be expecting the strongest and quickest action to resolve these ongoing wastewater issues.”

Foreness pumping station Photo Rob Yates

Southern Water last issued a statement regarding the waste release in Thanet on October 8 saying: “Following the fault at our Broadstairs Pumping Station Tuesday morning, we are continuing to comb nearby beaches for any evidence of impact and clean-up if necessary.

“We will continue to do this until we, the Environment Agency and Thanet District Council are satisfied no risk of environmental damage remains. A full investigation is taking place 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 Beachbuoy 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.”


  1. Anyone swimming even with their head out of water risks becoming ill since bacteria can enter the body in other ways and could cause illness. A scratch or a contusion on the body is enough to start the process and serious illness is a risk not worth taking, surely?

    Southern Water’s cavalier approach to their customers is disgraceful. Their loyalty lies simply with their shareholders who expect a dividend. Time this industry was taken back into public ownership. Unlike other utilities and services we have no option but to use their water as it’s a monopoly.

  2. A demonstration of dissatisfaction at Viking Bay on Saturday the 16th before the paddle boarding final begins would be beneficial in highlighting the problem at a Nationsl Event.

    • It’s one of the few things that might really concern the shareholders! It would have to be well coordinated though.

  3. How come suddenly swimmers are really important when my objections about risks to Ramsgate Main Sands swimmers have not brought about any safety measures yet? I refer to the dangerous and anti-social use of jetskis. This summer I have seen jetskis driven into the shallows where there were people swimming and paddling.

    • Totally agree – TDC ‘enforcement’ is useless in these matters ven if they turn up.
      However, the main point here is that a recurring serious problem has been going on for years without any effective action from our council officers, our elected councillors, our MP’s or, indeed, our government. Southern Water acts with impunity, it’s time to shame them and all those who have failed to protect our beaches, our visitors and our friends and neighbours.

  4. The slogan ‘Southern Water, clean up your mess’ makes little sense and is perpetuating the problem! The mess is generally ours, the beaches remained closed due to the offensive litter (condoms, baby wipes, sanitary products etc.) that SHOULD NOT BE IN SEWAGE, long after any biological hazard had passed. The excessive volumes that overwhelm the system are due to endless paving, abuse of the sewer by unscrupulous builders and diyers, poorly designed developments without adequate sustainable drainage. It’s always easier to scapegoat a single entity but tis problem will not be fixed without EVERYONE taking some responsibility.

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