A red flag on a beach generally signals hazardous bathing conditions. That’s exactly what a new activist movement, the Hastings & St Leonards Clean Water Action Group, meant in raising a host of such flags in a protest gathering opposite the Azur on St Leonards seafront two weeks ago. The cause was not high surf nor strong currents but the recent leak of raw sewage into the sea at Bulverhythe for which the group hold water company Southern Water responsible – see our report in HIP 183: Southern Watergate.

The group was formed last month from a small band of swimmers and their friends who say they were “disgusted, fearful and angry” in the aftermath of the burst sewage pipe. But they counted up to 250 people at the gathering, waving flags, banners and placards which expressed outrage at the company’s behaviour in prioritising profits over essential maintenance and routinely dumping sewage in the sea over many years. 

Among other speakers at the gathering, Julia Hilton, both Hastings Borough and East Sussex County Councillor, argued that water is a public good “that should never have been privatised”. She called upon local MP Sally Ann Hart to demand a public meeting with the senior directors of Southern Water “so they can hear the anger of local people and explain their plans for urgently bringing our infrastructure up-to-scratch.”

On the same day Hastings Borough Council issued a statement that they intend to require the company to commit both to a full clean-up and to policy changes that will prevent future similar incidents.

The company has issued a statement that it plans to invest £1.7bn over five years with a target of “halving” pollution incidents by 2025. 

The action group may not be satisfied with this. They say their next move will be to gather a “people’s assembly – a way for everyone to have their voice heard and help shape next steps against Southern Water”. 

There are a number of other organisations and community groups campaigning on the same issue. They include Surfers Against Sewage, SOS Whitstable, South Coast Sirens and Hayling Sewage Watch.

Volunteers offering to help organise and facilitate the foundational meeting of the Hastings & St Leonards
group should email in to [email protected]

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