More than 100 people turned out for a meeting last night (February 24) in Ramsgate with guest speakers former punk band frontman turned environmentalist Feargal Sharkey and Green Party peer Jenny Jones.
The gathering at The Modern Boulangerie in Harbour Street discussed sewer discharges by Southern Water into Thanet’s coast and other waterways.
Thanet Green Party organised the event amid growing anger over discharges polluting the sea and the damaging impact on the environment and businesses reliant on the tourist trade.
The event was headed by Jenny Jones, a former archaeologist who was a Green Party member of the London Assembly from its creation in 2000 until standing down in 2016, and Feargal Sharkey, who was the lead for band The Undertones and has become a prominent and effective campaigner against pollution of our rivers and coastline.
Speaking before the start of the meeting Baroness Jones said: “This is all about information and a shared purpose, it is really good to know that other people care about this.
“The water companies are being let off, they should not be giving hand-outs to senior staff and shareholders until there are improvements to infrastructure and those discharges are brought right down to a tiny level or stopped entirely.
“The water companies call them storm outfalls but they are simply discharges at any time of the day or night.
“We have to make sure they are fined properly and that they have to be part of the clean ups.
“It is Green Party policy that that we should renationalise something so precious so it will not be in the hands of people making a profit.”
Baroness Jones said water companies had been ordered by government in September to produce a plan for cleaning up their act within 14 days. She said 167 days later and still no plans had been produced, while discharges continued.
Feargal Sharkey said five years ago he set up his twitter account and was initially “shouting at the moon” but now people across the country are voicing opposition to the spills into coastlines and waterways.
He said: “Over the last two years water companies have spent almost six million hours dumping sewage into the environment across England and Wales. Oversight has been almost non-existent.”
Slamming the ‘mediocracy’ of regulators such as Ofwat the campaigner said: “All that needs to be done is that existing law that has been on statute for 30 years needs to be enforced.
“All that needs to happen is the regulatory framework that we have is used to hold water companies to account. We need government to act.”
Both speakers said people across the country were now making their anger known and telling government, water companies and regulators that they would not stand for the pollution any longer.
Green Party leader Mike Garner said: “It was great to see so many people there. Feargal Sharkey and Jenny Jones spoke with a lot of passion about the ongoing sewage issues created by Southern Water and energised all who were there to continue the fight to stop it.”
In January MPs, including South Thanet’s Craig Mackinlay, voted in favour The Draft Environmental Targets Regulations which sets legally binding targets to tackle water pollution. However, the draft has been widely criticised as allowing another 15 years of sewage pollution before measures come into force.
In Thanet discharges in 2021 shut down the majority of the isle’s beaches in June and October.
Last November Kent Wildlife Trust volunteers were forced to cancel a wildlife survey after Southern Water waste releases into the coast at Margate and Fulsam Rock. Releases were made from both the short and long sea outfall pipes and pumped into the ocean off the coast of Margate following heavy rainfall.
In December last year and January and February this year there were also water outages at properties mainly in Broadstairs and Ramsgate areas.
The issues prompted Thanet Green Party to call for a halt to all housing developments across the isle until significant improvements have been made to Southern Water’s infrastructure. Green Cllr Abi Smith has also put forward a motion requesting more involvement from Southern Water and the Environment Agency when planning applications for large developments are lodged.
Southern Water has been invited to attend an overview and scrutiny meeting at Thanet council on March 14 to explain the issue of the outages, how this is being dealt with and an explanation over the inconsistencies of compensation, longer term plans for water supply and infrastructure improvements and a request to supply further information for the supply of proposed housing developments.
There will also be a call for Southern Water representatives to hold a public meeting to explain why the outages happened and their plans to ensure supply is not interrupted in future.
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