Sussex Wildlife Trust responds to news of Ofwat penalties for Southern Water

, 28 June 2019
Sussex Wildlife Trust responds to news of Ofwat penalties for Southern Water
© Jack Perks

By Henri Brocklebank

Director of Conservation Policy

Southern Water’s recently announced fine from OFWAT  is a news story that impacts most people in Sussex, who will be benefiting from a £61 reduction in their waste water costs.

As a conservationist I never imagined that I would get so involved in sewerage related issues but the impact link with our wildlife is critical.
In Sussex we have areas protected for wildlife of local, national and international significance. Many of these are remnants of our much degraded wetland landscapes, islands of rich and unique biodiversity in our highly modified floodplains. The quality of these sites is dependent on clean water.  The phosphates and other contaminants that come from waste water are a death sentence for wildlife, let alone a risk to human health. And of course it all ends up in one global dumping ground - the sea.  Algal blooms and dead zones off our coasts are a serious threat caused by eutrophication (too many nutrients in the water).
Sussex Wildlife Trust works closely with Southern Water. They are an important partner in the restoration of our wetland landscapes and we have been impressed with their recent commitment to the environment. The 'catchment first' and 'target 100' initiatives are of great interest to us and their ongoing contribution at a community level through each Sussex catchment partnership event is valued.

Southern Water will have a significant journey to regain customer and stakeholder confidence.  We know that the leadership team at Southern Water has had big changes since the breaches were identified, and we know that they will be doing everything possible to demonstrate a transformation of attitudes and systems.

Whilst a penalty that impacts the company is inevitable and appropriate for a breach of regulations, trust and ethics, our hope at Sussex Wildlife Trust is that hard fought-for company investment in the natural environment is not reduced as a result of this fine, when it is the natural environment that has already borne the brunt of the problem.

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  • June Hale:

    I have to say I am not overly impressed with this response. The damage they have caused by their breach of the rules far outweigh the benefits of their current cooperation with SWT. £61 per customer is hardly a significant amount given the profits these companies make and the damage they have caused – which token refunds do nothing to address. Where, in any case, does this money come from, if not from the bills paid by their customers? Or are they perhaps considering a levy on their shareholders? SWT have an important role to play in preserving our environment; it is what I and others contribute to achieve. Rushing to the defense of corporates flouting environmental law is not part of that role.

    28 Jun 2019 10:17:27

  • @June Hale: We are under the impression that the Southern Water share holders will be taking the brunt of the financial hit of this penalty. There are no details available at the moment on the extent or geography (we don’t even know if it was a localised breach or across their entire region). Sussex Wildlife Trust’s concern will be on the impact these breaches have had on the natural environment and how they will be mitigated and also on ensuring that the ambitious environmental objectives in their business plan are not compromised as a result.

    We are also shocked by what has taken place. They are an important stakeholder on our Sussex Catchment Partnerships (defra led partnerships to bring together partners who can improve water framework directive ecological status) and will continue to be so. We will be discussing the situation with them in great detail once information is available. Our role is to speak for Nature in Sussex and we will be.

    28 Jun 2019 14:14:38