Southern Water plans to hold a public meeting in Thanet next month will be reviewed on January 4 in light of the rise in covid cases.
The meeting, to discuss Southern Water improvement plans in light of wastewater releases that shut a large number of isle beaches in June and October, is earmarked to take place on January 13.
However, a final decision on whether to go ahead will need to be made to take account of any restrictions imposed by government.
Initially it was proposed to hold the meeting at St George’s school in Broadstairs but the school has cancelled venue bookings. Instead, if the meeting goes ahead, it will be at St Peter’s hall which has capacity for around 75 people.
It is due to be attended by Southern Water CEO Ian McAulay and the firm’s Director of Environment Toby Willison who will give a brief introduction and then open the floor for questions.
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay is chairing the meeting and County Councillor Karen Constantine will take the floor with the first question.
Areas that will be focused on include this year’s pollution incidents and storm overflows.
Cllr Constantine has been asking for a meeting since October.
It follows combined sewer releases and failures at Southern Water pumping stations which led to warnings to stay out of the water in June and October.
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.
In October warnings were issued for 14 beaches and bays and stayed in place for nine days at 13 sites and an extra two days at Joss Bay following a discharge from the Broadstairs pumping station.
A public protest was held in June at the Foreness pumping station and in October protests were held in Margate, organised by Save Our NHS in Kent, and Western Undercliff, organised by Ramsgate sea swimmers. MP Craig Mackinlay was one of the speakers at the Ramsgate protest.
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 was facing 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.
Southern Water entered guilty pleas to all the offences during a previous hearing, admitting 6,971 illegal spills from sites in Hampshire, Kent and West Sussex over five years.
In September 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 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. The water firm also paid out £100,000 in compensation to Thanet council.
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 would be a bathing water task force 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.
In November Southern Water said it was launching a task force with the aim to cut storm overflows by 80 per cent by 2030.
Cllr Constantine said: “I welcome Southern Water’s commitment to holding a public meeting in Ramsgate. Although with the rise of Covid Omicron it is likely to be postponed, and it transpires that St George’s wasn’t actually booked at all.
“The new venue at St Peter’s will hold less people and is quite a way from Ramsgate and this will prevent some locals from attending.
“What we need is a large public meeting in Ramsgate as soon as we are safety able to do so. On behalf of the residents in Ramsgate I have now written 13 times since October, enquiring, cajoling, and pressurising Southern Water to organise a public meeting. In fact I booked a meeting hall for December 1 and informed Southern Water that they would ‘empty chaired’ if they didn’t attend. At this point they informed me they had set up a public meeting for early January in Ramsgate. That is of course, acceptable to myself and other local residents and so we decided to support their suggestion.
“It’s really important that Southern Water start to communicate and consult properly with the residents and elected representatives, who not only pay their bills but also use the sea as a key leisure and health amenity.
“It is unclear what function at any public meeting local MP Craig Mackinlay will play, as there is contradictory information about his role in this meeting. We’d like to see our local MP being much more visible and pro-active on this key issue or he risks an accusation of just turning up for publicity.
“I can confirm that I have volunteered to sit on a panel at this meeting. I urge Southern Water to ensure political and community representation and not to attempt a ‘greenwash’.”
Mr Mackinlay has confirmed he will chair the meeting. If the meeting goes ahead people will need to book for attendance via eventbrite.