Observer column 3 March 2023
Our right to clean water
It is six weeks since the flooding of the town centre, and a month since the latest burst in the Bulverhythe sewage main.
Time you might think to have identified the causes and completed the necessary repairs. But these two incidents were so bad, caused so much damage and have such far reaching implications that they will still be talked about for years to come. We clearly have a water and sewage system in this country that is antiquated, poorly maintained and not capable of coping with the impact of climate change. It has taken us over thirty years (since the water industry was privatised) to wake up and realise that our right to clean water is seriously threatened.
I welcome the energy of the national campaigning (led by Feargal Sharkey, a musical hero forty years ago) and media coverage (a new series fronted by Paul Whitehouse on BBC2 next week). But they really are just responding to the deep disgust and anger of people all over the country fed up with the rise in pollution of rivers and seas, and the inability of the system to cope with additional house building and far more rain.
All along the South Coast residents have been demonstrating against Southern Water. Here the Clean Water Action Group was formed in 2020 after the first burst at Bulverhythe. And Hastings Council passed a motion calling for renationalisation of water, as a public service not a business for profit.
Are things improving? Well, maybe. Southern Water is now easier to talk to, knows how Hastings feels, and also how much investment in our infrastructure is needed. We keep pressing them for two things, an investment plan for our town, and clear communication with our residents. I am optimistic that this is beginning to happen and that we will soon hear about the conclusions they have come to after all the incidents of the last two years.
What of the flooding, you may well ask? I am delighted that an independent investigation is underway, led by East Sussex County Council, who are the local flood prevention authority. When this is completed in a month or two, we will see who was at fault, how things could have been done better and also how much of the flood was down to climate change. Then the next big challenge starts, ensuring that our town is made more resilient, so this doesn't happen again. I want this to be a public debate, and will press for the report to be published and a special council meeting held to debate it.
In the meantime, please report any water problems, such as leaks on your street or sewage appearing in gardens, on the council website. That way we can continue to hold the industry to account.
Council Leader's column