'Appalling' Southern Water sinks to new low after being dumped to bottom one star rating by Environment Agency amid calls for jail for water bosses

SOUTHERN Water has been branded ‘appalling’ by the government as the company sank to a new low after being dumped with a bottom one star rating.

By Steve Deeks
Thursday, 14th July 2022, 2:31 pm

It comes as the Environment Agency said water company bosses should face jail for the worst pollution incidents amid the sector’s ‘shocking’ performance in 2021.

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The call was echoed by Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan who called the latest report on Southern Water as ‘shocking’ but was ‘unsurprising to Portsmouth people’.

Some of the hundreds who came to Stop The Sewage Southsea's first protest against Southern Water in October. Picture: Mike Cooter (161021)

Southern Water was humiliated last year after being handed a record £90m fine after pleading guilty to thousands of illegal discharges of sewage which polluted rivers and coastal waters across the county, as well as in Kent and Sussex between 2010 and 2015.

But the water company has now been left with even more egg on its face after falling to the lowest possible rating of one star out of four in the agency’s annual environmental performance report for water companies.

The company’s performance was described as ‘terrible across the board’ along with South West Water, which also fell to the lowest rating.

The agency, describing the overall performance of water firms across the country, said it was the ‘worst we have seen for years’, as serious pollution incidents increased to 62 in 2021, the highest total since 2013.

Stephen Morgan MP. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (060619-20)

There were eight of the very worst, category one, incidents, compared to three in 2020.

While total pollution incidents were down slightly to 1,883, there has not been any trend towards improvement since 2015.

Environment Agency chairwoman Emma Howard Boyd said: ‘It’s appalling that water companies’ performance on pollution has hit a new low.

‘Water quality won’t improve until water companies get a grip on their operational performance.

‘For years people have seen executives and investors handsomely rewarded while the environment pays the price.’

She added: ‘We need courts to impose much higher fines. Investors should no longer see England’s water monopolies as a one-way bet.’

The agency is also calling for prison sentences for chief executives and board members whose companies are responsible for the worst spills, and for company directors to be struck off.

A spokesperson for the Environment Department (Defra) said: ‘We will not tolerate this behaviour and we will take robust action if we don’t see urgent improvements.’

Mr Morgan said: ‘These figures are shocking and completely unacceptable, but will be unsurprising to Portsmouth people.

‘Time and again Southern Water has been allowed to pollute our precious local environment and bathing waters, with retrospective fines and current laws not strong enough to ensure the company meets its obligations, which I raised concerns about with ministers.

‘That’s why I fully support the Environment Agency’s call today for larger fines, prison sentences for chief executives and board members whose companies are responsible for the most serious incidents, and company directors struck off so they cannot move on in their careers after illegal environmental damage.’

Toby Willison, Southern Water’s director of quality and environment, said: ‘We know we have a long way to go, however, new investment and new ways of working, including major upgrades to our control centre and pumping stations, and the introduction of tens of thousands of digital monitors across our network, are already making a difference and delivering positive change.’