Portsmouth City Council leader urges Hampshire authorities to buy out Southern Water together
THE leader of Portsmouth City Council has suggested local authorities across the south east buy Southern Water to force it to stop dumping raw sewage into rivers and the sea.
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson said he had 'no confidence' in the company to tackle the issue which last month saw untreated sewage discharged into Langstone Harbour continuously for 49 hours.
'We cannot trust Southern Water, ’ he said at Tuesday's full council meeting. 'We cannot trust the government. We have to make sure that we sort this ourselves.'
The company, owned by Greensands Holdings, operates across much of south east England and in July was fined £90m for illegally dumping more than 60,000 hours’ worth of sewage into rivers and seas between 2010 and 2015.
More than two years ago the city council unanimously passed a motion calling on it to 'completely' stop discharges at Langstone Harbour but Cllr Vernon-Jackson said little progress had been made and that a new approach was now needed.
'I've been around here a long time and I've heard various debates about Southern Water,' he said as the council agreed a 'renewed' motion making the same demand.
'I'm really disappointed to have to say I have no confidence that they're going to get any better. We have to see if we can take things into our own hands.'
He said he was willing to write to other council leaders across the region 'to see if we can buy [it] out'.
'We have to see if we can take the future into our own hands and work with other councils across the country,' he added.
His fellow Liberal Democrat, councillor Lee Hunt, said action had to be taken and that the issue 'cannot be put off into the future'.
But Conservative councillor Scott Payter-Harris said the suggestion was 'quite silly' and showed 'how far away' Cllr Vernon-Jackson was from the financial realities of such a move.
'To transform the sewage system in this country is between £150bn and £650bn,' he said.
'To put that into context, £150bn is more than the entire schools, policing and defence budget put together.
'The £650bn is more than we spent during the pandemic to ensure that people kept their livelihoods.'
In response to the Portsmouth plea, Councillor Keith Mans, leader of Hampshire County Council, said: 'Protecting and safeguarding the natural environment is a very high priority for the county council and the pollution incidents and issues relating to Southern Water operations in the area are both disappointing and concerning.
'We firmly believe that the company should act quickly to put measures in place to prevent re-occurrences, and we would agree with the need for effective oversight and monitoring by the Environment Agency.'