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Council declares 'no confidence' in South West Water

Friday, 23 February 2024 10:48

By Will Goddard, local democracy reporter

Sewage on beach (file image courtesy: BBC Panorama)

East Devon concerned at Exmouth sewage spills

East Devon District Council has declared “no confidence” in South West Water’s management of the sewage network. 

It comes after several recent pipe bursts in Exmouth, which led to tankers transportong waste through the town and frequent discharges of raw sewage into rivers and the sea. 

At a council meeting this week, Cllr Todd Olive (Lib Dem, Whimple and Rockbeare), slammed what he sees as “environmental vandalism.” 

He said: “Sewage overflows in East Devon spilled raw, untreated effluent for over 20,000 hours in 2022.  

“That’s the equivalent of a single pipe spewing poo into our rivers and onto our beaches for over two years and three months continuously. 

“In the few weeks since… the beginning of February, we’ve seen the third burst of a sewage main in the Maer Valley in Exmouth in the space of barely two months. 

“Only today I understand colleagues have been dealing with another burst pipe, this time in Colyton.” 

Cllr Olive said residents are “angry at the desecration of our rivers and our coast”, and at disruption caused by “weeks of noisy, frankly obnoxious tanker movements”. 

He added that the company has “quite simply failed to demonstrate that their systems are adequate or that they are prepared to genuinely address, account for and respond to their failures.” 

Cllr Joe Whibley (Independent, Exmouth Town) shared his concerns for the tourism industry in East Devon. “We will get a reputation as somewhere that smells a bit, and that people won’t want to come to. We need to make sure that South West Water prevent that, because we can’t survive as an area without tourism,” he said. 

Councillors voted for a raft of measures, including calling on the company to notify the council directly when raw sewage discharges happen, and to engage more with the council around whether the sewage system can cope with new housing developments. The council will also ask MPs to support its efforts and to lobby government. 

A South West Water spokesperson said: “We are disappointed to hear about the motion passed by East Devon District Council.  

“We will continue to do everything we can to deliver ongoing improvements and to address the concerns of our customers in light of the recent bursts in the area.” 

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