The mood in Ramsgate Comfort Inn during Southern Water’s public meeting on Monday 12th December matched the weather outside – cold.
The presentations by staff and contractors were very competent, there is no doubting their intentions to communicate, to allay public fears and anger. The will of Southern Water employees to address our significant problems is evident. But…
It’s patently obvious that the antiquated system we all rely on to carry water and sewerage can’t be expected to cope with the huge increase in the numbers of those now using it. I’m sure when it was built it was ‘state of the art.’ But now? Well… it’s unreliable. Even after a whooping £90m fine and immense public anger resulting in multiple demonstrations, and many column inches of negative press. Southern Water is still splashing around with no real plan.
What they presented was unconvincing. It lacked the detail, the ambition and the scope and scalability needed to succeed if we are going to have a sewerage system fit for the future. Worse than this, Southern Water’s plans to fix the enormous problem of water security, leaky pipes and stopping effluent in our seas is clearly being done on the cheap. The big idea is water butts of all types and sizes, put into use to relieve the drainage system at peak times. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a most welcome idea. Yes, let’s cut down run-off, chop out leaks, ensure better drainage. That’s great as far as it goes, it isn’t going to work long term.
What’s needed to secure poo free seas for the future is a rebuild. Significant investment is required. The money that Southern Water has had (from us the bill payer,) over the last thirty years, has quite simply run through their fingers and into the bank accounts of shareholders. We are now paying the price.
Frankly, I felt that the Southern Water staff presenting on the night were professional, valiant and determined to get their points across. But I think even they know the jig is up. When asked, four times to say if they felt the current system could cope with the new houses now being built in Thanet. They simply couldn’t answer.
The audience of concerned residents included those from the fishing community and councillors of all colours – except blue. TDC Conservative leader Cllr Ash Ashbee left before the formal meeting got going. It would have been welcomed if Cllr Ashbee had stayed to listen.
TDC, much to our disapproval, are leading on stakeholder engagement. When Southern Water’s Fionnula Robinson asked me why I wasn’t happy with this, how could I possibly explain the public’s general perception of TDC?
I was predictably disappointed and dissatisfied that our local MP was missing, although apparently he wasn’t specifically invited. But he could have chosen to stand with the residents who’s interests he represents – supposedly. Maybe he doesn’t want to be grubbing about with the irate poo obsessed locals?
I was also dismayed that no-one from KCC was in attendance. Southern Water and KCC need to cooperate and do in-fact work closely together. It seems impossible these days to get anyone from KCC to any public meeting in Ramsgate – I know, I’ve tried. I think Southern Water and KCC are operationally siloed. This was a good opportunity for KCC and TDC officers to meet the public and to flesh out some of the relevant policies, such as tree planting schemes and highway drainage proposals.
I think we got what we expected from Southern Water. It’s clear that their plan is firefighting rather than systemic remedy.
We heard all about what’s happening in Swalecliffe, Canterbury, Deal and Whitstable. We heard that the water butts project is going well, that some run off is being tackled, that the Dane Park fountain may be repaired, that twenty Margate schools are receiving sustainable planters to help keep back water, and that, apparently in the Spring we’ll hear even more of this grand plan! All good stuff, but there really needs to be more. Considerably more.
What we didn’t hear is why Southern Water promised a community Stakeholder group and then reneged? Nor do we yet have a date for when citizen testing kits, (available via Southern Water in other areas) will be available in Ramsgate or Thanet.
Southern Water need to up their game, because one thing is for sure – we’ll be upping ours. Our coast, our local fragile ecology, the livelihoods of fishermen, those who trade in sea sports, and our health and well-being are all at stake. If Southern Water want to talk about genuine community stakeholder engagement – we’re ready. If not, we’ll continue making ourselves visible and heard.
Surely cooperation via a genuine community stakeholder group is the best way forward?