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Long read: Newbury MP and West Berkshire villagers slam ‘unacceptable’ Thames Water sewage spills

West Berkshire residents have had enough of sewage flooding their streets and gardens.

It is the same story in East Ilsley, Hampstead Norreys, Compton and other neighbouring villages – rivers are rising and groundwater is infiltrating the sewage network.

The result? Thousands of litres of contaminated water – including raw sewage – spilling on to streets and into people’s homes from surcharging drains over months.

“Hampstead Norreys’ dog walkers are being sprayed with sewage by passing cars,” said Carolyne Culver (Green, Ridgeway) at a full council meeting of West Berkshire Council on Wednesday, March 27.

“There is toilet paper, sanitary towels and condoms in the streets.”

Speeding motorists have been splashing polluted water onto cars and houses along Abingdon Road
Speeding motorists have been splashing polluted water onto cars and houses along Abingdon Road

In East Ilsley, exposed sewage has been collecting in the fields opposite Whitehall Cottages, in Abingdon Road, for more than a month now.

Flooding shut The Crown & Horns pub for a week in early January.

And its situation has not improved.

Publican Sarah Batchelor estimates more than £17,000 in damages to pub stock and equipment.

“It feels like the River Pang will burst through the walls at any moment,” she told newburytoday.

Publican, Sarah Batchelor, first spotted flooding from the walls in the cellar while changing a barrel
Publican, Sarah Batchelor, first spotted flooding from the walls in the cellar while changing a barrel

Its two water pumps, one active and one reserve, are working round the clock to remove excess water flooding the cellar.

Compton flood warden Peter Callard confirmed foul water sewer flooding is largely isolated to the south-eastern boundary of the village in Aldworth Road.

Ms Culver said these communities endured the same problems in 2014 and has called on Britain’s biggest water utility company, Thames Water (TW) – previously named among the worst performing by industry watchdog, Ofwat – to find a long-term solution.

Environment Agency storm overflow spill data for 2023 shows a 54 per cent increase in the number of sewage spills compared to 2022.

An EA spokesperson said: “The frequent discharge of untreated sewage to the environment is unacceptable.

“We continue to monitor the ongoing situation and have instructed TW to produce a plan setting out what it will do to reduce the risk of pollution.

“The current impact on the river environment is low due to the high dilution of the groundwater.

“TW needs to learn from these types of incidents, and confirm what additional actions and investment it will put in place to improve the situation.”

It confirmed West Berkshire Council is responsible for any significant public health concerns regarding sewer flooding.

Principal officer of policy and governance at the Public Protection Partnership Moira Fraser said: “The council has received a number of concerns raised by residents regarding the issue of sewage overflows in residential areas.

“The responsibility for managing this lies with the sewerage undertaker, in this case TW.

“The public protection and highways services are in regular contact with TW to deliver a resolution for residents as soon as possible.”

A TW spokesperson told newburytoday: “We regard any untreated discharges as unacceptable, and we’re committed to stopping them from being necessary.

“Storm discharges are closely linked to rainfall and our region experienced above-average rainfall for most of 2023.

“The overflows are designed to discharge automatically when the sewer network is about to be overwhelmed.”

Newbury MP, Laura Farris
Newbury MP, Laura Farris

“Ever since I was first elected, local frustration with TW has been palpable,” said Newbury MP, Laura Farris.

“In accordance with their obligations under the Environment Act 2021, TW has committed to an 80 per cent reduction in storm overflows in ‘sensitive catchments’ by 2030, which includes the Kennet, the Pang and the Lambourn.”

On January 26, TW operations director for the Thames Valley and Home Counties Tessa Fayers told her: “In terms of relining work in the East Shefford catchment, I can assure you we have delivered an extensive programme of works and the area has benefited significantly from the investment we have prioritised.

“Historically, we have lined some 8.5km of sewers and sealed 83 manholes, with a further 1.6km of lining and 49 manholes sealed since April 2023.

“This has led to an improvement in our service over the last few years where previously we would have expected to see an impact in the catchment.

“The lining and sealing work carried out to date is significant, but we acknowledge there is more to do.

“We now have funding for a further 548m of lining and sealing of 13 more manholes across the catchment in Eastbury, East Garston and Great Shefford.

“We will look to deliver this as soon as water levels drop sufficiently, assuming they will before winter 2024.”

Mrs Farris formally requested the EA to impose a fine on TW for “the environmental damage and public health risk it is allowing”.

The EA’s Thames area director Anna Burns responded to her on February 28, saying: “Given the actions that TW have undertaken to improve the situation, it is very concerning the company has experienced further significant sewer flooding since December.

“TW now needs to respond to the latest events and confirm what additional actions they will take to improve the situation.”

TW previously unveiled plans to invest £1.12bn in upgrading more than 250 of its sewage treatment works, including those at Compton and Hampstead Norreys.

But with its shareholders refusing to bail it out of its crippling debt with a £500m cash injection, West Berkshire villagers fear their troubles are not a high priority for the water company, and are tired of the ‘buck-passing’ between the parties involved in this matter.

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