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Council calls on Thames Water to do better for residents

Read more about our response to flood-related sewage - including action we are taking and our letter to Thames Water.

Posted by: Communications team on 15 May 2024 09:03
Categories: May 2024
Sewage visit

West Berkshire Council is continuing to address residents concerns about sewage and foul water in public spaces - and to lobby Thames Water to do the same.

It follows correspondence and concerns from residents in relation to contents of sewers overflowing into rivers, streets and private properties.

The Leader of West Berkshire Council, Councillor Jeff Brooks, and Chief Executive Nigel Lynn have written to Thames Water on behalf of residents who have had to "endure months of misery and polluted waterways due to continued lack of investment in sewage infrastructure in West Berkshire."

The letter to Thames Water - which can be read in full below - goes on to say:

Our residents are rightly angry about the volume of sewage going into our waterways and the impact of sewer flooding on communities. We expect you to act with greater urgency to stop this from happening.

The Council therefore asks Thames Water for the following:

1. To provide details of investment in sewage infrastructure since the floods in 2014.

2. That an action plan be put in place across West Berkshire to urgently resolve the sewage flooding and overflows into our waterways.

3. That regular meetings be arranged between senior leaders at West Berkshire Council and Thames Water to monitor the delivery the action plan.

Similar letters highlighting a lack of Government action in ensuring water companies are held to account for their actions have been sent this week to local MPs and the Rt Hon Steve Barclay, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

We are continuing to respond to issues locally as we have been doing since the widespread flooding experienced in January.

Site visits were recently conducted in six areas continuing to experience the effects of the sewer contents escaping into their communities. These visits were in Lambourn, Eastbury, East Ilsley, Hampstead Norreys, Newbury and East Garston. As a result, we will be arranging for further gulley emptying and additional maintenance including:

  • In Hampstead Norreys contacting riparian owners of the ditch alongside the road to undertake maintenance to improve flow, and additional grips (cuts in verges) to remove water from the Highway into the ditch
  • In Lambourn arranging further clearance of highways drainage and undertaking further mapping to enhance drainage records
  • Repairing road surfaces - including along Water Street in Hampstead Norreys and Newbury Street in Lambourn

Further visits will be conducted in the next couple of weeks should conditions on the ground change. No grounds to issue abatement notices were found as there was no statutory nuisance being caused but this will be kept under review.

Councillor Stuart Gourley, Executive Member for Environment and Highways said:

"For residents in effected areas this continues to be a nuisance and we are committed to doing all we can to resolve this. The underlying problems are beyond our control being failures in the local sewage network and we are continuing to keep the pressure on Thames Water to do better by our communities.

"Where this issue is effecting us we are taking steps to address these issues and have been since January. This includes arranging for additional gulley clearing, providing portaloos for residents in Great Shefford, West Ilsley and Burghfield, putting up warning signs where its affecting the roads and speaking to Thames Water to repair damage their tankers have caused to the highway. We're working hard to address these problems and will continue to do so."

Need help?

If you need help but don't know who to speak to:

  • Inform us of flooding coming from outside your property e.g. from the road or pavement- visit Report Flooding - West Berkshire Council or call 01635 551111
  • If your toilet, sink, or bath is flooding, or if there is sewage in the flood water call Thames Water: 0800 316 9800 or report online at thameswater.co.uk/reportaproblem
  • For flooding caused by a river, call the Environment Agency's 24-hour enquiries line: 0800 80 70 60

Letter to Thames Water

The following letter was sent to the Chief Executive Officer of Thames Water by the Leader of West Berkshire Council, Jeff Brooks, and Chief Executive Nigel Lynn:

West Berkshire Sewage Infrastructure

We are writing on behalf of the residents of West Berkshire who have had to endure months of misery and polluted waterways due to a continued lack of investment in sewage infrastructure in West Berkshire.

During the month of March this year alone outfall pipes at sewage treatment plants within West Berkshire were discharging into our waterways for almost 3500 hours. This is wholly unacceptable. Added to this, communities across West Berkshire have had to endure sewage flooding for over 3 months, with roads, gardens and homes impacted.

In 2014 high groundwater levels caused sewer flooding across West Berkshire, particularly in the Lambourne Valley, Pang Valley and the Clay Hill areas of Newbury, almost identical to the impact in 2024. At that time, the amount of sewage discharge into our waterways would have been unknown as widespread monitoring only started in 2023, however it can only be assumed to be significant. The devastating impact of the 2014 floods was followed with promises to line sewers and upgrade sewage treatment plants to prevent recurrence in the future. We understand that sewer lining had been carried out, however this is clearly not at a scale that has reduced the impact on our residents or waterways.

Since 2014 it is a positive step that all sewage overflows are now monitored, however it is hugely disappointing that some within West Berkshire have not been adequately maintained and not giving accurate information. It is essential that these monitors are kept under regular maintenance and are accurate.

In your business and investment plan 2025-2030, you are targeting a reduction in sewer flooding by 14% and reduction in storm overflows by 28%. This shows a lack of ambition and demonstrates a historic lack of investment across the region. West Berkshire is home to some of the most ecologically diverse and beautiful chalk streams and waterways in the Country, and the Council recognises the critical work of volunteers, charities, flood forums and campaigners across West Berkshire, in supporting and improving the habitat of our waterways. The Council also acknowledges the role of riverkeepers, land and water maintenance workers (including Private Estates) and canal & lock employees whose livelihoods rely on the clean waterways which are being destroyed by continuing sewage discharging. These stakeholders deserve the highest possible protection from the effects of untreated sewage.

Our residents are rightly angry about the volume of sewage going into our waterways and the impact of sewer flooding on communities. We expect you to act with greater urgency to stop this from happening.

The Council therefore asks Thames Water for the following:

  1. To provide details of investment in sewage infrastructure since the floods in 2014.
  2. That an action plan be put in place across West Berkshire to urgently resolve the sewage flooding and overflows into our waterways.
  3. That regular meetings be arranged between senior leaders at West Berkshire Council and Thames Water to monitor the delivery the action plan.

The Council is committed to working with Thames Water to improve West Berkshire's environment and the quality of life of its residents. We are hopeful of an early response to this letter to help avoid a recurrence of this untenable situation.

Last modified: 15 May 2024 11:41

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