County Councillor Karen Constantine: Seeing Red – Southern Water plan lacks ambition

Cllr Karen Constantine

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?

21 Comments

    • The problem with sewage on the beaches has absolutely nothing to do with any immigration policy.
      It does have an awful lot to do with climate change and the converting over of front gardens.
      The problem of pollution on the beaches will (paradoxically) be made worse if our sewers are enlarged to cope with ever larger flows. The stuff will just get to the treatment works faster, and overwhelm it.

      • Really so more houses with more discharge, more gardens etc makes no difference. More people from overseas or London. Same effect on all services in Thanet.

    • Tories have had a long time to sort it out & made lots of promises they would-which was the key part of their election campaigns & have failed miserably.

    • Your a Pillock Joris Bonson, get help! The fact is the water companies have failed since privatisation, paying shareholders £60 billion, money that could have been invested in our Victorian water system! As far as no Tory KCC councillors and our chocolate South Thanet MP, not turning up for the meeting is concerned, it proves that like most Tory’s they are not interested unless they can personally benefit!

  1. Great shame that this worthwhile and informative meeting was hyjacked and turned into a political shouting match with Karen distributing Labour Party leaflets before the meeting which started half an hour late (therefore reducing time for questions) and ended dead on time

    I, for one, ended up feeling somewhat sorry for the guys from Southern Water

    • Andrew, for information the mtg started at 6.30 because Fionnula (SW) told Ramsgate SOS it had to because of Comfort Inn.
      Ramsgate SOS then told its 83 members about the delayed start to save them wasting time.
      Fionnula then decided 6pm was ok but too late as messages of the late start had been sent. She then agreed to start at 6.30.
      As it turned out SW needed to set-up a pretty pointless tripod block & tackle!
      As for “shouting match” I admit to being guilty. My problem was that SW ignore what they commit to in previous discussions. They then do this ‘stuck record’ routine which leaves me with two options – shut-up or challenge.
      Otherwise I thought the mtg brought out that on basic issues, like new builds and the Manston aquifer, they haven’t a clue.

    • Don’t, they dumped crap into the sea just to save money & could have cared less whether or not you or your loved ones got sick or died from it.

  2. I should also point out that was was said in the article (doubtless written by Karen) was incorrec in that at least one Conservative Councillor was present throughout

  3. Southern Water are not just about sewage, but our drinking water supply. Here on the Isle , the source is the aquifer, basically the chalk rock as a giant sponge. No-one seems to know how long this will last: my crude calculations suggest within 10 years. Then we are in drought, no water, and difficult to get it in. We came very close to it in September, SW’s information reveals. No-one knew at the time. I have asked SW this question and what they would do in the case of complete failure of the water supply, in a Freedom of Information Act request, but they have not replied within 20 days, which is itself an offence. At he meeting SW staff said they were aiming to completely separate sewage from drainage, which would enable water to be recycled to an open reservoir, logically on Manston, which could feed the aquifer. Or, de-salination, there’s plenty of water around – but its seawater.
    Its just crazy that England is the only country in the world to provide water and take away sewage, by private companies. These good SW people listened to us , but could not get their giant, foreign-owned corporation to divert profits to investment. Its time for a takeover. We must own it, in order to control it.

  4. Did Cllr Constantine give out Labour Pty leaflets? I didn’t see that but, if so, it’s annoying to say the least. It was agreed at the SOS Ransgate mtg on 5th Dec that no party political leaflets would be given at this event.

  5. Who pays the £90m fine. We do the general public who are forced to use their SW services. Who are the beneficiaries, the shareholders who’s return on their investment is greater than the annual increase in water and standing charges.

    Mrs ££CC I have no doubts would like to see SW renationalised along with all previously state owned services that were privatised.

    Would re-nationalisation infer that we would become like China or Russia i.e. dictatorships. Possibly but at least then the profits made would be reinvested or diverted into what remaining facilities the state -we the taxpayer- pays for.

  6. I am in no way political but in fairness should point out that when these companies were owned by US the public any profits went back into building the infrastructures and not into shareholders accounts. Gas, electricity, post, telephones, water and so on all boosted Mrs. Thatcher’s political term and we sadly do not see such investment now as shareholders want their return. On the water subject though. of course there will be problems when there is heavy rain, look around Thanet where so many farm fields are being covered in houses and developments. No chance of water being stored underground. For sewerage the present disposal system is obviously not up to purpose and yet there are more and more houses and more people producing waste that will only add to existing inadequacies. Southern Water should be utterly ashamed of their record. OK I have said what I feel.

    • Thanks Dennis , well said. Re USA, in a conversation I had with a US hydrologist some years ago, he told me that the State of Colorado had an ordinance that compelled any developer ensuring a water supply for 100 years on their site. A bit different here, where all they have say is that there is a water supply.

  7. The only ambition they have is to make as much money as possible for the bosses & shareholders. They like the other water companies were given money to fix this issue in the 1990’s, none of them did & now they want more money & no doubt yet again if they do then it will go straight in their pockets once more.

    After all they admitted in court to dumping sewage many times, not due to the antiquated systems, but just because they could save money doing it. Surfers Against Sewage have recently said they & other water companies have still been doing it since then in the summer when there is no need to.

    But why wouldn’t they carry on polluting? Nobody goes to jail, they get golden handshakes & a new one gets moved in to ‘clean things up’ & any fines just get paid by the taxpayer through increased charges & by sacking the staff answering calls etc, meaning an even worse service for us.

    The PR/charm offensive has been going on for over a year now, but it is all lip service, virtue signaling/greenwashing & acting like our friends with the sickly adverts & stuff coming through the letterbox & the Dane Park Fountain distraction news that just coincidentally is all over the Kent press at the same time this meeting is happening. A few might be fooled, but most can see through it.

  8. Some years ago I attended a Southern Water presentation on ‘The Next 25 Years’. I said to the young man doing the presentation that,’surely we should be looking at the next 125 years’. He had no answer to that but it’s true that too much short-termism has brought us to where we are today where shareholders of a company owned, not by us the taxpayers but by an international company, expect healthy dividends at our expense.

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