Councillors have joined forces to pass a cross-party motion to protect rivers and seas from pollution.
At a Full Council meeting this week, a motion put forward by Councillor Rachel Millward and seconded by leader Councillor Ann Newton was unanimously approved by all members.
It follows the revelation that in 2021, according to The Rivers Trust, Southern Water was responsible for raw sewage being spilled into Wealden’s waterways for over 17,000 hours, spanning across four river catchments – all serving areas of outstanding natural beauty and ecological significance.
It also followed a meeting attended by Wealden councillors Ann Newton, Neil Cleaver and David White with senior Southern Water officials.
The motion also looked at inviting the new incoming CEO of Southern Water, plus senior representatives from the Environment Agency and Natural England, to attend a meeting to answer questions on the current levels of sewage discharge; and ask Southern Water, in its planning consultation responses for major development, to clarify which treatment works will be managing the sewage and whether it has information available to assess the impact on the number or duration of sewage discharges into local rivers or seas.
Councillor Rachel Millward said, “Our water companies are letting us down and it’s getting worse. This motion empowers us to fulfil our commitment to serve our communities and with better knowledge and a refined process, we can work together to make better decisions to protect and restore the natural areas. I am delighted to bring this as a cross-party motion.”
Councillor Ann Newton, who seconded the motion, said, “I am very happy to make this a cross-party motion. This is an important subject for us, which in the past we have had little control over, and we need to change this. We owe it to generations going forward.
“I would particularly like to thank Councillors Neil Cleaver and David White for their dedication and persistence.”
The motion in full called for councillors to recognise the council’s obligation to protect rivers and seas in line with its local strategy and the National Planning Policy Framework; recognise that deterioration of water quality occurs due to cumulative impact of multiple sewage discharge events, or “sewage overload”; ensure an evidence base is compiled that assesses the cumulative impact of sewage discharge so it is factored into decisions made in new iterations of the local plan, including the overall level of future development; better understand the cumulative impact of wastewater discharge including untreated sewage on our local rivers, wildlife and the health of our residents and continue to take a lead on addressing the issue by working constructively with other agencies.
The motion also requested that planning officers include in all relevant reports relating to major development, a specific section on the impact on watercourses, including the potential for the development to affect sewage outflow into watercourses.