A triple dip protest will take place at Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate this Sunday – marking one year on from a mass rally which protested at Southern Water waste releases into Thanet’s coastline.
Last October SOS Ramsgate organised a gathering at the Western Undercliff that was attended by some 300 people. It followed protests in Margate held in the wake of sewer outfall discharges that shut down the majority of the isle’s beaches in June and October.
This Sunday SOS Ramsgate will be joined by members of Surfers Against Sewage, Thanet Friends of the Earth, Plastic Free Thanet, Rise Up Clean Up Margate, Thanet Green and Labour party members and other local groups, to protest at Southern Water ‘inaction’ since pledges made at a public meeting in April and to ask what South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay is doing to combat the issue.
A parade of ‘jellyfish swimmer’ with placards will hit Margate Sands, by the beach café, at 1pm on Sunday, then travelling to Broadstairs, by the Funicular Coffee House, at 2pm and on to Ramsgate, by Wetherspoon, at 3pm.
People are invited to join the demo and are asked to support it by wearing blue.
SOS Ramsgate member Sue Gyde says there is frustration that pledges for a stakeholder group and citizen water testing have not come to fruition.
She said: “A whole year has gone by since our first SOS Ramsgate demonstration and nothing has happened.
“Garry Saunders, Elke Haeckel and myself on behalf of SOS Ramsgate, together with Karen Constantine KCC councillor, had managed to secure a public meeting with Southern Water in April 2022. Since that meeting nothing has happened.
“We have been asking for two main actions – to establish a community stakeholder group and a Citizen Science water testing group, but nothing has happened.”
Campaigners also say they are disappointed that Mr Mackinlay did not attend an Environment briefing from Professor Chris Whitty in June or take part in a Parliament debate instigated by MP Huw Merriman about sewage discharges earlier this month.
“Recently I wrote to MP Craig Mackinlay about sewage discharges and apart from yet again pronouncing that he rebelled against the government to strengthen the Environment Bill, in itself debatable, he did not mention anything he personally has been doing in his constituency of South Thanet to ensure Southern Water keep to the promises made at the public meeting.
“He has never made any approaches to work together with SOS Ramsgate on solving this crisis, unlike Rosie Duffield Labour MP Canterbury who chairs their community stakeholder group and actively campaigns with the sea-facing community of her constituency.
“A key issue is this government is setting up a new body, Office of Environmental Protection, when we already have the Environment Agency that could enforce if it was fully funded.”
County Councillor Karen Constantine says people’s health and wellbeing is being “sacrificed by the cavalier attitudes of Southern Water and the inaction of our Conservative MP.”
She says she has written to Mr Mackinlay asking what action he is taking and urging him to take part in Huw Merriman’s debate on water discharges on October 12 in Westminster Hall, but says: “So far, he hadn’t responded to say what, if any action he has taken.”
The action comes on the heels of a national petition ‘Ban Water Companies discharging raw sewage into water courses.
Cllr Constantine said: “We are appalled by what is happening, and what keeps happening. Action to stop sewerage being released into our sea is lamentably slow. We are losing patience.
“Craig Mackinlay MP made fulsome reassurance’s at both the last Ramsgate SOS protest and the public meeting which I called for and pressured Southern Water to hold.”
Mr Mackinlay was among the MPs who rejected one amendment to the Environment Bill put forward by the House of Lords last year.
The amendment was to impose a duty on water companies to “take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows”.
Mr Mackinlay was one of a handful of Conservatives who voted against the original amendment, saying it was not strong enough. A reworked amendment secured his backing, with the MP saying additional measures gave the bill “teeth to require water companies to reduce sewage discharges.”
However, Cllr Constantine says the safeguards are “inadequate.”
She added: “Likewise, despite a robust dialogue with bosses at Southern Water, it is impossible to get them to uphold to their public agreement to implement a community stakeholder group so we can scrutinise decision making. Nor have they yet provided us with the promised kits to test the seawater for ourselves.
“We will not put up with being fobbed off. I’m afraid far too many of us are far too angry and disappointed with the shameful lack of action of both Craig Mackinlay MP and Southern Water.”
Mr Mackinlay has hit back saying the SOS event is “purely political” and that he has been in communication with Southern Water, the last time being on October 18.
He added: “The June briefing by Professor Whitty was, I gather, not terribly enlightening and I struggle to understand how my attendance would have solved the issue. My commitments to other Parliamentary business did not allow me to attend. “Reports from fellow MPs suggest that it descended into a Net Zero jamboree suggesting we don’t eat meat and all the rest.
“Following the successful public meeting that I organised on 21st April, it was never an action point for me to take up to organise a community stakeholder group – this was promised by Southern Water. I’d have obviously used my office to make it happen had I been advised by the local groups that they were being stonewalled in anyway and I can give an undertaking to do that as necessary.
“Southern Water additionally promised ‘real time’ testing equipment. Since then I have had at least two South East MPs Zoom meetings with Southern Water officials on top of regular email communication to get the truth about reported discharges throughout the late spring and summer period. The last Zoom meeting with the new CEO and the senior team was on Tuesday 18th October.
“The real time testing equipment is to be implemented imminently and they laid out other action points that were promised including £Bn investment into improvements. It’s all very well people thinking that this is a problem with an overnight fix, I wish it were, but I am satisfied enough at this stage that the new Environment Act is a statutory pathway to eradicating the issue of sewage discharges, albeit over a long-term period.
“The issue of ‘smart’ water-butts was again raised by me with them. This is a novel plan to provide water-butts which self-empty in advance of an expected high rainfall period allowing the water butt volume to be used as a roof run-off capture rather than the rain filling the combined sewer system (at the root of the problem).
“I can assure your readers that everything I can do to improve our local water quality is being done.”
A spokesperson for Southern Water, said: “We recognise the concerns of those who are protesting in Thanet.
“It is important to us that we work closely with our communities, and we remain committed to creating a stakeholder group in this area. We are in talks with Thanet District Council on how this might look.
“We are also continuing to trial ways to best help groups carry out accurate water quality testing and we are currently working on an approach with Canterbury City Council. The results will inform any possible approach in Thanet.
“While we have a key role, improving and maintaining water quality requires the input of many partners in finding solutions to the variety of factors that affect it. These include road and agricultural run-off. We are committed to reducing our use of storm overflows and are working hard to seek ways to remove rainfall from the sewage network.”
In July the water firm published a report which included proposals to cut storm releases into the sea off Margate.
Southern Water’s Storm Overflow Task Force said the Margate Pathfinder report was the first step of a collaboration between residents, councils, and community groups to improve drainage, manage wastewater flows, and significantly reduce the use of storm overflows in the area.
Storm overflow (combined sewer outfalls) releases occur in Margate due to the town’s predominantly combined sewer system, where both wastewater and rain runoff enter the same network. During heavy downpours, rain overloads the system. To avoid homes, businesses, schools and roads flooding, excess water is released into the sea. Releases are around 95% rainwater but have not been fully screened.
Southern Water says it is working alongside Kent County Council, Thanet District Council, and residents to improve drainage in the area and drive down the use of storm overflows.
Sunday, October 30
Margate Sands, by the beach café, 1pm
Broadstairs Viking Bay, by Funicular Coffee House, 2pm
Ramsgate, behind Wetherspoon, 3pm