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Demand for action over Teign sewage spills

Storm water overflow (Image courtesy: Guy Henderson)

'This represents a risk to health for residents and visitors'

Anger over sewage in South Devon waters has spilled over into the Teignbridge council chamber.

The council’s executive committee is to consider a vote of no confidence in South West Water (SWW) over its management and investment in the district’s sewerage.

They will also debate writing angry letters to the government deploring sewage spills and demanding more spending on infrastructure.

SWW says reducing storm overflows is its top priority, and it welcomes ‘robust scrutiny’ from councils. It says climate changes and the increasing number of severe storms is partly to blame for the water issues.

Members of the full council heard that in the Teign Estuary alone there were 420 discharges last year, totalling more than 2,100 hours, during which untreated sewage and wastewater flowed into the water.

Cllr David Cox (Lib Dem, Teignmouth Central) put forward a motion describing ‘widespread concern’ among Teignbridge residents. He said increased sewage spills are ‘totally unacceptable’.

He claimed continual government underfunding had reduced regulators Ofwat and the Environment Agency to toothless tigers, and called for more engagement between the water company and local councils.

“It has been suggested that this is quite a harsh motion,” said Cllr Cox. “But it is also to help SWW, so we can work with them and help them stop pouring sewage into our rivers and the sea.

“This is a big issue.”

The executive committee will also debate a motion from Cllr Andrew MacGregor (SD Alliance Independent, Bishopsteignton) which calls on the council to lobby government ministers.

He said the figures for discharges into watercourses, rivers and the sea painted a disturbing picture.

“It represents a risk to health for residents and visitors,” he said. “It represents a risk to businesses reliant on the produce from rivers and estuaries. It represents a risk to tourism businesses and to the management and maintenance of beaches, including blue flags.”

A spokesman for SWW said the company is investing record amounts to reduce storm overflows.

This includes £850 million in 2023-24, with a priority on reducing overflows at more than 150 bathing and shellfish waters including in Teignbridge.

The spokesman continued: “Almost all bathing waters in the South West have a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ water quality status, which is determined by the Environment Agency, and we now have 100 per cent monitoring to help us target our investment where it is most needed.”

SWW says the increase in storm overflow spills this year can be accounted for by the amount of named storms and weather warnings in 2023.

“It’s clear we need to redesign our systems, which we are already doing,” said the spokesman. “We will also be the first water company to meet the government target of less than 10 spills per overflow, per year – a decade ahead of target.”

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