Scrutiny Board, 1 : Southern Water, 0

This afternoon, we went round to the Civic Plaza to sit in the ‘public gallery’ at Havant Borough Council’s Operations and Place Shaping Board.

The Board was conducting a short inquiry into the discharge of sewage effluent into Langstone Harbour.  Representatives of Southern Water Authority (sic) had been invited to attend this session to give evidence and answer questions from members of the Board.

The meeting was introduced and chaired by Cllr Diane Lloyd, who we can report pulled few punches.

Members of the public were also welcome to attend and observe this session and could request to make a deputation to the Board on this matter. Members of our peer groups on Hayling Island, Richard Platt from Hayling Island Residents’ Association and Dave Parham from the Save our Island campaign group both gave well constructed and presented deputations to the Board.

Southern Water Services Ltd [they ceased to be an authority when they were privatised back in 1989] fielded their publicity team of Sam Underwood and Paul Kent. Unfortunately, neither had read the brief and were lamentably unprepared for the level of intelligent questioning that came from both the deputees and the Board.

It may be that they’d done their research and assumed that while the local residents might have done their homework, the council would have remained docile. Not so this evening. Here was the council working at rather more depth than exhibited at last week’s Council meeting. Several of the councillors who made up the panel were observed to ask suitably searching questions of the two representatives of Southern Water, only to be met with a consistent response of ‘I’ll get back to you on that’.

Without going into the detail, we might sum up Southern Water’s attitude as:

  • “We keep telling the  public that they shouldn’t flush ‘wet-wipes and other un-flushables’ down the loo, but they keep doing it.”
  • “We don’t have a policy of preventative maintenance, but we do react (eventually) to foreseeable issues, but only once they’ve been reported.”
  • “We don’t actually have any of those measurements so we can’t actually tell you how much we spilled into the ditches.”
  • “The ditches that carry the effluent that results from our spillages are not our responsibility. Try HBC, HCC, the Highways Agency or (that old get-out) riparian owners.”
  • “We think we know where all our manholes are, but it’s quite possible that Dave did actually find one we weren’t aware of.”
  • “We take full accountability for our kit, and we’re certainly not blaming our customers.  But the fact remains that they’re the ones that who keep flushing wet-wipes down the loo.  Oh, and the people who own the ditches we accidentally discharge into simply don’t maintain the undergrowth.”
  • “You can’t expect us to maintain fallback plans for all of those things that seem to recur with monotonous regularity.”
  • “We’re forward thinking, we plan capacity for growth over a 15 year period”

That last one interests us greatly, given our concerns about the Local Plan 2036 and the increase in number of ‘bums on loos’ in the borough with over eleven thousand houses in prospect. We may just test that statement…

Our SW friends went away, tails down, to regroup and come back to us with some detailed answers. We’ll let you know when we receive them.

As for our representatives on the Council, well they actually impressed this evening. Let’s hope they are as exercised when questioning themselves over the way the Regeneration Programme is going.  We were impressed by Cllr Lloyd’s chairmanship, and also by Cllr Clare Satchell’s and Cllr Joanne Thomas’ questioning.

But then as ward councillors for Hayling East and Hayling West, with residents in the public gallery perhaps that’s only right…