West Sussex, South Hampshire and the Isle of Wight have launched the forum to drive improvements in water quality in local harbours and the wider Solent region
The MPs brought together local community representatives and officials from the Environment Agency and local government with Southern Water’s Chief Executive to discuss the water company’s plans to phase out storm water releases and improve local water quality in Langstone and Chichester Harbours and the wider Solent region. The Forum also heard from Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, who set out the steps the Government is already taking, such as implementing a legal phase out of storm water releases, mandating improvements in the water efficiency of homes and requiring housebuilders to mitigate the effects of new developments.
Another live issue was the release of stormwater into Langstone and Chichester Harbours by Southern Water. During and after periods of heavy rainfall, their systems can release releases into local harbours causing concerns for the health of harbour users and the environment. MPs called on Southern Water to set out their plan to phase out releases to comply with the new legal obligations set out in the new Environment Act.
Southern Water’s CEO Ian McAulay said he was committed to reducing the frequency of releases, and pointed to their current work with Natural England and universities to build a new digital ‘baseline’ assessment system, expected to be up and running within a year.
The new baseline assessment tool will be key to accurately identifying the sources of pollution within the harbours, providing the partnership the ability to implement targeted solutions and track the impacts accordingly, to tackle the issue of pollution and protect these precious natural habitats.
Studies are also underway to improve drainage through nature-based solutions.
Speaking at the Forum, Mr McAulay said: “The systems we have in place today are not the systems we need to get to where we want to be tomorrow, for the benefit of our customers and the environment. You have my full support and I really like the fact that people are talking about water quality.”
The first meeting of the Forum was chaired by Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt who said, “So many people across Portsmouth and the wider region want releases to end. It will take effort and investment and it is only by this joined up approach we will be able to deliver all that is required. We need frank conversations and to be focussed on the outcomes we all want to see. It won’t be easy but it must be done.”
Chichester MP Gillian Keegan said, “It’s great to be working with so many of my colleagues to put a spotlight on Southern Water’s performance and improvement plans. It’s brilliant to have so much direct involvement from the Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, and I hope that our collective pressure will ensure a solution-focused approach continues. This is just one area of activity, I will also continue to work with community groups, CHaPRoN, and all agencies involved to ensure we improve the condition of the Chichester Harbour, Pagham Harbour and inland waterways.”
Havant MP Alan Mak said: ‘I’ve been working on this issue for several years, and having proposed the creation of the Forum I’m pleased Southern Water are taking this issue seriously and working constructively to improve the health of our harbours and the wider Solent. However, the Forum’s MPs recognise there’s more work to do and we are working together to continue pressing Southern Water to improve water quality in our region”.
Isle of Wight MP Bob Seeley said, “So many people across Portsmouth and the wider region want releases to end. We need investment not only on the Island but throughout the Solent.”
The MPs plan to follow up with another meeting of the new Forum this autumn, to track progress and press for further action.