By Suzanne Kelly 

Over fifty people turned out on Wednesday 27 October to highlight the continuing problems with water pollution. Facebook groups including Hastings Environment Network and Plastic Free Hastings announced on 26 October that the BBC would be filming for the Politics South East show, on the beach near Azur at noon the next day. The groups invited the public to “show Parliament we expect them to take a stand against this rising tide!” Despite the short notice, the turnout was strong. People of all ages carried banners, placards and red flags – as used to warn when the water is unsafe for swimming.

In July, Southern Water was fined an unprecedented £90 million for dumping billions of litres of raw sewage into the sea over six years, allegedly in a bid to avoid upgrading infrastructure. Also in July, there was a major sewage spill at Bulverhythe between Hastings and Bexhill-on-Sea. The Environment Agency is currently allowing water companies to release untreated wastewater into some of the UK’s most vulnerable rivers and streams. The well-being of both people and wildlife may be at risk. The decision is being blamed on a shortage of treatment chemicals, which in turn is being blamed on a shortage of HGV drivers. 

Mat McDonnell, who attended the protest, grew up in Hastings where he swims and fishes regularly. He told us: “It’s a sad state of affairs… we are all very well aware of how much danger our world is in – it‘s not a new problem. The government has the wherewithal to take these things [water companies] back into ownership.” He feels that if there is room for profits for shareholders, there must be funds to spend on improvements.

The BBC featured the event as part of its Politics South East programme, aired on 31 October. Deputy Labour Leader of Kent County Council, Cllr Karen Constantine, an active member of a year-round, wild swimmers’ group, said in the programme: “We’re not just concerned about our swimming, we’re concerned about the ecology and all the other swimmers as well.” She feels that the infrastructure updating is crucial. Mat McDonnell also pointed out “The poorest among us are going to be hardest hit by the ageing, collapsing infrastructures.” 

Julia James, a grandmother from Hastings, told HIP she was there because: “What kind of legacy am I leaving for my grandchildren? It’s not OK. We have to think about the future and the government is not.” Alicia Poch, who recently moved to the area, said: “After moving here I realised how amazing it was. My children and my children’s children having to suffer red flags all the time because of sewage in the sea is not acceptable.” One protestor commented that during August there had been almost constant sewage and pollution alerts.

Tories provoked outcry last month by refusing to back an Environment Bill amendment reining in water pollution, just days before Cop26 climate summit got underway. According to the Guardian, the Environment Agency reported there were 403,171 spills of sewage into England’s rivers and seas in 2020, adding up to over 3.1m hours of spillages.

The BBC segment was part of its 31 October programme and can be seen here

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