Thanet demonstrators join nationwide protest over water company sewage releases into our seas

Paddle-out protest at Viking Bay Photo Nick Clark

Members of the Ramsgate & Thanet Save Our Seas groups,  swimmers and paddleboarders and action groups including FoE Thanet and Thanet Green Party joined Kent Surf School for a Paddle Out protest at Viking Bay in Broadstairs yesterday (May 20).

More than 30 protesters took to the sea on surfboards, paddleboards and bodyboards, accompanied by swimmers and supported by protestors on land with placards and music, to highlight their concerns about the pollution of our seas.

The event was part of a day of Big Paddle Out demonstrations across the country called by national protest group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) to highlight the continuing sewage releases by water companies all over the UK.

Photo Nick Clark

The protests were headed by a flagship paddle out at Brighton where a Floater surfboard was officially launched.

The board, made by creative agency Mr President with SAS, consisted of recycled materials and resin containing raw sewage from the sea and included two transparent windows in the top displaying the litres of sewage water contained within it.

The SAS charity is calling for seas and waterways to be protected from discharges.

Photo Viv Yankah

Annual data shows sewage was released for 2.4 million hours across the UK last year. In Thanet, sewage spills into the sea rendered beaches inaccessible during June and October 2021 and discharges continue. Water outages lasting up several days also affected residents and businesses in Broadstairs at the end of last year and beginning of this year.

Before the protest, a Surfers Against Sewage spokesperson highlighted Southern Water’s woeful record – an environmental performance rating of just 1 out of 4, and 80 ‘dry spills’ (sewage releases after no rainfall for 2 or more days) in the past year – the highest number of any water company.

Photo Fi O’Connor

SAS is asking for an end to shareholder pay outs until water companies comply fully with environmental regulations, a cap to company bosses’ bonuses and transparency on where money paid to water companies is going.

Earlier this week, industry trade body Water UK announced a £10 billion plan to reduce the number of sewage discharges.

Photo Nick Clark

The organisation issued an apology for the pollution. However, it prompted anger when it warned bills would rise to cover the costs of work to reduce the outfalls.

SAS says customers have already footed the bill and should not be asked to pay again.

Photo Nick Clark

A statement says: “We welcome the industry finally taking responsibility and any additional investment to fix our broken system but the money is too little and the apology too late.

“These profiteering companies have had ample opportunities to put things right and invest in their infrastructure.”

Lawrence Gosden, CEO of Southern Water, said: “I am completely supportive of the Water UK announcement, committing to system-wide action and investment of £10 billion on storm overflows and apologise that action was not taken sooner on sewage spills in the South-East.

Photo Nick Clark

“At Southern Water, we’re already working to reduce the number of storm overflows, investing significant money to build bigger infrastructure and redesign a legacy Victorian sewer system, as well as using innovative technology and natural solutions. “Further to this, in June, we will be announcing more detail on our plans and how we will work with our stakeholders and communities to deliver.

Photo Town Cllr Steve Roberts (Green)

“Our board is sensitive to customer concerns on remuneration and has developed pay and bonus policies that reflect our environmental and customer service performance, as well as the challenges of our turnaround.

“In my first year as CEO, I will not be taking any bonus, because we have clearly not met the wider expectations of our customers.”

SAS is  urging people to sign its petition which has gained more than 116,000 signatures at

Additional details with thanks to Carol Cooper


  1. Let’s push for public ownership of national assets like water companies.
    I don’t suppose the water treatment will improve very much, but at least we won’t be paying foreign investors whilst sewage spews across the beach.

    • Your right Phyllis, can anyone name a previously publicly owned national asset that has benefited the public? No you won’t, because any profits from these companies will have been paid to shareholders, mostly foreign owned, and off shore to avoid tax. Previously publicly owned industry’s re-invested any profits, and in any case water is a monopoly, no one has a choice what water company they want to use, its a license to print money! Re-nationalise now!

  2. Trouble is you keep building houses . Every toilet flush is properly 6 ltrs baths sinks showers. How big is a the treatment plant required. I know its not nice pumping it into the sea. I don’t think you will ever stop it . They quoted last week an investment of billons . How many properties have been built in the last ten years . And look at that super sewer they have just finished in London you can put a double decker bus through it .

    • Yep build them a big sewer in London & they all move to Broadstairs and the luxury seafront houses/apartments geared up for them & the holiday homers/AirBnBers – The infrastructure just can’t cope any more – Called my Docs for an appointment = 1 week wait after 3 hours of redial & queueing 🙁

  3. The point of the piece is that the water treatment plants aren’t up to the job. Building more houses won’t help.
    But neither does paving over front gardens (rain just runs straight into the drains instead of soaking into the ground).
    And Global Warming means that there are more and more severe rain storms that will overwhelm any sewer system.

  4. and our water bill payments will be used to connect all these new houses that genuine locals will never be able to afford

  5. Phyllis Quot, it is not that simple to re-take control of water companies. The government sold them. So the government will be required to buy them back, at a cost of many billions of pounds of tax payer’s money.
    What should be put in place is criminal proceedings. If a council saw any member of public continually polluting and chucking fetid waste into rivers or the sea, eventually they would end up in court.
    Shamefully, the government allows water companies to pollute our rivers and seas.
    As for the CEO of Southern Water not taking his bonus. What a hollow gesture. How about a sacking for for bringing Southern Water into disrepute. Or at least give the money to a local charity.

    • I’ve seen a financial report that looked at a government buy-back and found “it was a reasonable investment” which would recoup the costs over 5-10 years.
      With this said any government could pass legislation that made public ownership legal with minimal compensation as the water companies have not met their legal obligations for water supply and treatment.
      A government could also find a way to bring powers with environmental legislation to prosecute Directors for pollution. As criminals they would be barred from directorship. Gov’t could then take the companies into special measures. An easy fix here is to harmonise UK with new EU Directives on water supply and treatment.
      Another angle is to force the companies to pay all their debts. This would bankrupt them and so require the government to step and take them over as they did with some banks.
      As for new builds Government can change Building Regs and planning laws to require contractors to pay for all water supply and treatment requirements.
      Lots can be done if the will is there. Neither the Tories or Labour will act to address this properly so we have to force them to – somehow.

      • Well Garry, the government has taken several rail companies into public ownership, and it still owns part of NatWest Bank, so it may be possible to renationalise water without any further legislation, just a thought!

  6. Garry Saunders,
    There is much you have written making sense to me. Except you missed out the shareholders. They have a right to veto bringing it back into public ownership, weeping and moaning about losing their initial investments, etc.
    Governments’ should never sell monopoly utilities. Instead, simply lease them and, providing the utility is doing it’s job properly, receive dividends from the profits.
    Which IDIOT sold such a precious commodity?
    It all sounds dead easy, doesn’t it.

    • WTOB – I wasn’t aware of a shareholders right of veto. It seems odd as they invest which means their capital is subject to company performance. If it goes down so does their investment? I’ll need to look into this.

  7. It was one M.Thatcher who thought it a good idea to sell off all our nationalised industries, that we had paid for, including council homes. It beats me why anyone votes for the Conservatives, they couldn’t run a bath!

  8. I often wonder were the money went selling all those council properties back in the 80s. Councils must of had a field day. I know of a lady who brought her flat in Central London for 23k and sold is 6 years later for385k . Nice profit

    • Councils were not allowed to spend the money they received from selling council houses and flats on building replacements. It was the ex-council tenants who profited, when they sold on.

    • The Councils had anything but a field day.
      Thatcher’s “Right to Buy” scheme meant that council (but not private) tenants could buy their homes for a huge discount (maybe 1/3 the market price) as long as they continued to live there for at least three years. This cost councils an enormous amount of money, and made a huge amount of money for council tenants.
      It also took away tens if not hundreds of thousands of “social” homes, leading to the dreadful situation many renters now find themselves in.

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