SOUTHERN Water has blocked off a disused pipe on the Lancing/Worthing border after residents reported it was leaking water into the sea.
The move came just days after MP Tim Loughton accused the firm of a ‘cover-up’, for allegedly failing to act on the problem despite knowing about it for a number of weeks.
I am even more annoyed to be told that you have known about the leak for some weeksTim Loughton
A Southern Water spokesman admitted a limited amount of ‘clear water’ had been getting into the ‘disused pipe’ running from East Worthing treatment works into the sea near Brooklands.
However, it claimed the leak was of low risk to residents, so no action was taken to restrict access to the beach.
The spokesman continued: “Before the pipe was sealed, precautionary measures such as restricting access to the beach and putting up warning signs were all carefully considered, with the decision made that these would not be appropriate or proportionate, given the very low risk to beach-users or their pets and the minimal impact on the environment.”
In an email to Southern Water last week Mr Loughton, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, said: “I am extremely disappointed and annoyed that I appear to be one of the last people to find out about this latest spillage.”
Mr Loughton said he received news of the leakage from social media on April 17. This was followed by a number of constituents who raised concern of the leak at his surgery in Lancing the next day. Mr Loughton published his strongly-worded email on Facebook for the residents to read.
He wrote: “I am even more annoyed to be told that you have known about the leak for some weeks and kite surfers were tipped off last week to be vigilant about pollution in the water. This is simply not acceptable and has only led to greater suspicion by local residents that there is some sort of ‘cover-up’ going on and you are not addressing the problems seriously.”
The Southern Water spokesman confirmed the disused pipe was sealed off on April 21. He said: “We have worked closely with the Environment Agency since the problem currently being dealt with was first identified in early April, with Adur & Worthing councils brought into discussions.”
Following a campaign, led by administrator of the Lancing Regeneration Facebook page, Francis Smith, 2,000 people signed a petition to urge the water firm to be more transparent, following claims by residents that raw sewage had appeared on Lancing beach.
This campaign led to negotiations between Mr Loughton, Mrs Smith and Southern Water. The water firm agreed to form a multi-agency committee with key members of the community to strengthen communication and observe any future drainage problems.
However, Mrs Smith said there still needed to be better communication, and asked: “If they decommissioned the pipe, why didn’t they take it away?” Chairman of Shoreham Beach Residents’ Association Joss Loader, said she was ‘undoubtedly concerned’ by news of the leak: “Whatever goes into Lancing turns up in Shoreham,” she said. “If it is not sewage, we want to know what it is.”
Jackie Swanwick of Mash Barn Lane in Lancing, said she was getting ‘fed up’ with Southern Water. “They don’t seem to be doing anything to stop these leaks. We don’t feel they’re taking it seriously enough. This is not fair to the people of Lancing,” she said.
Mr Loughton said Southern Water was to arrange a further meeting with him and confirm which body was responsible for cleaning up spills, but the meeting was yet to take place.