‘Unacceptable’ – regulator tells Southern Water to clean up its act

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A waste water treatment plant (Photo: stock image)

SOUTHERN WATER has been blasted for its “unacceptable” performance protecting the environment – less than two weeks since it was hit with a record £126m penalty for “reckless” mismanagement.

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The company, which services the New Forest, was awarded just two out of four stars in an Environment Agency report that said it had also failed to demonstrate robust enough plans to maintain secure water supplies.

The rating comes after industry regulator Ofwat last month levied a huge fine for equipment failures and spills, as reported in the A&T. Wastewater customers will get rebates of about £61 each over the next five years.

Southern Water was one of three companies to get the lowest two-star rating awarded in the national report published on Wednesday, which said that all but one of England’s nine combined water and sewerage companies’ performances had deteriorated.

It warned that most are also on track to fail to meet 2020 pollution targets.

Toby Willison, the Environment Agency’s executive director of operations, said: “Water companies need to clean up their act.

“People expect water companies to improve the environment not pollute rivers, and ensure secure supplies of water.

“We will continue to challenge CEOs to improve company performance and we will take strong and appropriate enforcement action.”

Southern Water provides water and sewerage services for the eastern side of the New Forest, and sewerage only for the western side. Water there is provided by Bournemouth Water, which also covers Christchurch.

The town’s sewerage is provided by Wessex Water which dropped from a top four-star rating to three.

A Wessex Water spokesperson said it was “disappointed” to lose a star but pointed to the company being the only one to record 100% compliance with Environment Agency permits in 2018.

He said: “We’ll continue to work hard to reduce our environmental impact and, with around 35% of recorded pollutions on our network last year caused by sewer misuse, keep banging the drum about the damage caused by flushing wet wipes or pouring cooking fat down the sink.”

Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd questioned whether badly performing companies should be paying out dividends to shareholders.

In the latest published results of Southern Water, owned by a consortium of private equity and infrastructure investors and pension funds, an operating profit of £236.6m was reported in 2017/18.

A company spokesperson said more information about dividends would be available after its annual report is published next week.

Alison Hoyle, Southern Water’s director of risk and compliance, highlighted an £800m spending plan and said a “major factor” in its poor rating for supply resilience was new restrictions on taking water from the rivers Test and Itchen.

She said: “There has been a complete step change in our pollutions team over the past two years and this is reflected in the far higher level of self-reporting as new systems and processes kick in.

“We know we have more to do. More awareness training for staff means we are now finding and fixing issues sooner, and an improvement programme at all of our high impact sites is making good progress.”

She also pointed out Southern Water had received the third highest score for discharge permit compliance, which relates to the quality of treated wastewater leaving its sites.

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