General election candidates speak out on sewage

By Jason Lewis, Local Democracy Reporter

southampton test general election candidate hustings LRDS Several candidates standing in the general election in Southampton Test constituency, which includes Portswood and St Denys, took aim at the performance of Southern Water after the subject of sewage being released into rivers was raised at a hustings event.


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There was a round of applause in the audience when a resident asked what the candidates would do to force Southern Water to stop dumping sewage in the river Test, Itchen, Hamble and in the Solent.

Across the Southampton Test constituency, Environment Agency data showed sewage was dumped in rivers and estuaries for a total of 2,660 hours in 2023, according to website Top of the Poops.

This compared to 1,386 hours in 2020, 895 hours in 2021 and 1,092 hours in 2022.

The subject was raised during the question time hustings at St James’ by the Park, Shirley, on the evening of Monday, June 24.

Liberal Democrats candidate Thomas Gravatt, who was first to respond to the question said Southern Water could not continue to exist in its current form.

He said his party wanted to transform water companies into public benefit companies that serve the public good like the NHS.

riverside park with sewage works behind jan 24 P1040824The  River Itchen by Riverside Park, with Southern Water in the distance

Mr Gravatt said: “We would introduce a much tougher water regulator to replace Ofwat because whatever is happening currently, they get a fine.

“It’s a drop in the ocean for a large company.

He said sewage being released into rivers was “devastating” and “environmentally catastrophic”.

Mr Gravatt added: “One of the things the Lib Dems would do is where you have got the flag certification of beaches, we would introduce certification for rivers as well to make sure a high standard of bathing water and wildlife, that people enjoy the rivers.”

Labour candidate Satvir Kaur said she shared residents’ frustrations.

She said she believed Southern Water was the worst water company in the country, adding that “they will say one thing and do another”.

Ms Kaur said: “We need a government that is going to hold their feet to the fire and actually that’s why the Labour government, if we’re lucky enough to serve, will have proper regulators that actually criminalise water companies for breaking the law because at the moment that’s just not happening.”

She said money should be invested by the companies into infrastructure so issues like leaking pipes do not happen.

Ms Kaur said if she was elected she promised to try and fight for change on this issue as much as she could.

Katherine Barbour, Green Party, said it was an “enormous issue”.

southampton test general election candidate hustings LRDS Southampton Test hustings event at St James' by the Park, Shirley. Photo: LDRS

In her role as a city councillor on the banks of the river Itchen, she said people raised it with her regularly.

“The problem is that to renationalise Southern Water and the other water companies will mean that we are going to have to be paying for that again and that is going to be really expensive but it is something we’re going to have to do and unfortunately water companies are saddled with debt as well,” Ms Barbour said.

The Green Party candidate said there were problems and the waste water treatment licences were inadequate.

Ms Barbour said: “I just feel as a person who actually swims in the river Itchen, I always keep my head out of the water, but it’s so, so sad because it could be such a lovely place for people to spend their leisure time and we have to advise people not to swim and be in that water.”

Conservative candidate Ben Burcombe-Filer said it was a topical question.

He challenged others on the panel over nationalisation, saying it was naïve just saying they would do it and the country was going to have to pay for it.

Mr Burcombe-Filer said: “No one here has mentioned how much it is going to cost. No one has mentioned where it is going to come from.

“I’m sure it sounds like a really attractive option but it is very easy to sit here and make promises.

“A tougher regulator. How? Unfortunately, at the moment the Conservative Party is the only party that is going to engage with the system in the way it currently is and we will work with the water companies to solve the problem because it’s simply not practical to nationalise a whole water industry.”

John Edwards, Reform UK, said it was possibly the one subject the candidates were “more or less” in complete agreement on.

“Where my party stands on this is our natural resources shouldn’t owned by foreign companies,” Mr Edwards said.

“They shouldn’t be owned by foreign companies paying their shareholders dividends every year while our infrastructure is creaking and leaking and not up to the job.”

He said for the past 15 or 20 years he had been involved in keeping tabs on the river Itchen.

Mr Edwards said he had photographs of sewage “pouring” into the river and of “deformed” fish.

“I’ve still got documented conversations with fisherman who have given up fishing in the river Itchen further upstream because it’s so polluted,” Mr Edwards said.

“There is a report out recently that the river Itchen now has E. coli detected. It’s E. coli, okay. Dangerous and it’s going out into the coastal areas and into our seas.”

Workers Party candidate Wajahat Shaukat and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate Maggie Fricker were not allowed to be on the main hustings panel.

Organisers Churches Together in Shirley invited them or a representative to speak at the end of the evening for a couple of minutes.

A Southern Water spokesperson said: “We understand the concerns raised about our performance, and we know it has not lived up to expectations.

“This is why we are in the midst of an intensive short-term turnaround plan, driven by £1.6bn of shareholder investment since 2021, ahead of ambitious plans for huge investment in our network from 2025.

“We would like to reassure our customers that we have not paid dividends to shareholders since 2017, with money staying within the business to fund improvements.

“Future bill increases will be decided upon by Ofwat, and our proposals follow extensive customer consultation to ensure we are responding to our communities’ wishes for a service that puts our environment first.”

The full list of candidates standing in Southampton Test, along with acceptable forms of ID for polling day, is here.

The full list of candidates in Southampton Itchen, which includes Bitterne Park, is here.

Protest over Itchen sewage as campaign bus pulls into Triangle

ldrs logo 200px This article is from the Local Democracy Reporting Service or Shared Data Unit. Some alterations and additions may have been made by our site, which is a partner in the BBC's Local News Partnerships scheme. LDRS journalists are funded by the BBC to cover local authorities and other public service organisations, and content is shared with all partners.

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