‘Utter dismay’: Water company says it will pay compensation after sewage spill closes 11 Kent beaches

Utility Southern Water has committed to cover the costs incurred by a Kent council and pay compensation to local businesses following a sewage pollution incident that prompted the week-long closure of 11 beaches in the area.

Photograph: Mariusz Kluzniak/Getty Images Photograph: Mariusz Kluzniak/Getty Images

Southern Water has said the cause of the sewage release overnight on 16 June was a lightning strike on Foreness pumping station, and recent heavy rainfall.

Only today, a week after the incident, has Thanet District Council been able to lift the advice that the public not enter the sea or area of beach below the highwater mark.

In a strongly worded letter sent to the water company earlier this week, Ash Ahsbee, leader of Thanet Council said: “I write to you to express my utter dismay at the failure of your wastewater pumping station at Foreness Point on Wednesday night”.

The letter added: “Given the repetitive failure of this plant for more than a decade, I do not accept that an act of God is in any way an excuse for this latest environmental and financial disaster in our district.

“Surely your company has an emergency protocol in place to mitigate against any such eventuality at what is a critical part of your infrastructure”.

Ashbee went on to request that Southern Water “recognises its failures and compensates both the council for the costs incurred with the clean-up operation and all local businesses for their loss of trade”. 

It is not just the council which had expressed outrage at polluting of its beaches; on Sunday approximately 200 protesters took to the streets in Margate, marching from the district council offices to Southern Waters’ pumping station. 

Speaking to KentOnline, Tim Garratt, from local campaign group Acorn Margate, said:  “People are sick of it. This seems to be a yearly occurrence and it feels like people have had enough. 

“It smells like sewage has been poured around the area, particularly as you get closer to the pumping station area around Walpole Bay. Southern Water have to clean up their act.”

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay has also called for the Environment Agency to “come down hard” on Southern Water, and has described the company as one which “seemingly cares little about its own corporate reputation, the businesses affected and the tourist appeal that our Blue Flag beaches have as key assets of our area”.  

In a statement issued this afternoon, Thanet Council said: “Following a constructive meeting between senior council officials, the local MPs and the chief executive of Southern Water on Tuesday 22 June, assurances have been provided that reasonable compensation will be provided by Southern Water, to local businesses that have been directly impacted”. 

The council also said Southern Water had made a commitment to cover the costs incurred by the council in responding to the incident, along with an offer to fund community related beach support in the coming weeks.

In a statement from Southern Water, chief executive Ian McAulay said: “We are hugely grateful to Thanet District Council for their work with us. We have agreed to meet the costs the council has incurred as a result of the incident to ensure no additional pressure on the public purse. No pollution is acceptable to our customers and it is not acceptable to Southern Water either".

McAulay also said that “while the incident is still under investigation, Southern Water had prepared well in advance of the predicted heavy rain and thunderstorms last week” and added that the company “acted on the alarm within minutes of it being activated since we had already deployed standby crews pre-emptively to site”.

He continued: “To protect local homes and businesses from internal flooding from the volume of rain, surface water and wastewater passing through the pumping station at that time meant we had no choice but to make an emergency release”.

When asked what action the Environment Agency may take against Southern Water a spokesperson said: "Water companies have a legal duty to avoid pollution, and must act quickly to reduce any damage that happens as a result of their activities".

The spokesperson added that the agency was continuing to assess the impacts of incident and that "an investigation is in progress".

This article has been updated to include Southern Water and the Environment Agency's statements

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