Green Party Councillors say that it’s time for Southern Water to 'come clean’ on the link between sewage discharge and development

Cherished local species, the sea trout, taken on the Ouse above Barcombe. Photo credit Paul Sharman

Cherished local species, the sea trout, taken on the Ouse above Barcombe. Image by permission of photographer Paul Sharman.

Green Party Councillors are planning to make Lewes District the first council in the UK to link the increasing discharge of raw sewage into local rivers and seas with housing development.

A motion to the council on 23rd May would mean that for the first time, local water company Southern Water will be asked to make clear the impact of new development on sewage discharge into local rivers and seas, when they respond to planning applications. Currently the planning system assumes that there will be enough capacity to take new development so this question is not asked.

Lewes District Council planning officers would also have to produce a specific section on the effect on watercourses when assessing planning applications for major developments.

Data from The Rivers Trust show that Southern Water discharged sewage into rivers and seas in the Lewes district over 800 times in 2020, and an analysis of Environment Agency figures shows that the Ringmer Waste Water Treatment Works was releasing untreated sewage into Glynde Reach, which leads to the River Ouse and then the sea, for approximately 18 hours per week, or 10% of the time, during 2021.

Green councillor for Ringmer & Ouse Valley, Emily O’Brien said “I am delighted to be taking this important step asking Southern Water to ‘come clean’ on the real impact of development. Releasing untreated sewage ending into our rivers and seas is simply not OK.”

“It’s common sense that every new house and every new toilet will add to the sewage burden on an already overloaded system. Even worse, thanks to loopholes in the planning system introduced by government, we are facing an onslaught of extra new housing development outside of that agreed via the local plan. Yet, at the moment the link between development and sewage overload is not made visible when it comes to planning. It’s time for that to change.”

The Green Party argues that without action, the increasing levels of untreated sewage will damage not only human health but natural habitats and local wildlife.

Affected areas include Lewes Brooks which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) home to rare snails, flies, moths and water beetles. They particularly highlight the impact on the rare and much loved local, and protected, species of sea trout which is only found in this area.

Green Party Councillor Matthew Bird added: “This is such an important step and builds on a previous water quality motion we took to Council in September 2021. The motion will also ask the Environment Agency, which is the national regulator, to take action by issuing a position statement. They have done this on other water quality issues in nearby areas such as in West Sussex where it has meant a complete halt to all new development until the situation is resolved.

“We will also be asking Natural England, who have the responsibility for monitoring water quality, to carry out urgently new assessments of Lewes Brooks which haven’t been done since 2013, and requesting Southern Water, the Environment Agency and other relevant organisations to meet with councillors so we can put our questions and concerns and seek constructive ways to take joint action on this unacceptable situation.”

Legal opinion provided pro bono by Alex Shattock of Landmark Chambers thanks to the Environmental Law Foundation.

Motion s24202 Lewes District Council submitted by Councillor Emily O’Brien.