Water worry

SIR - Re : Preservation of the Environment?

Recent reports in the media concerning South West Water’s distribution of water around this area bring to mind the foolish disregard of a ruling in 1978 by the Secretary for The Environment, that the valuable water in the Sidford North aquifer should be protected from pollution and be preserved for future public and/or private use.

This followed a planning application for development which led to a detailed, exhaustive and competent enquiry which led, in turn, to the application being refused and Peter Shore’s ruling.

It is well to recall that in the late 1970’s, the borehole at Sidford North then produced c. 90% of the potable water required for Sidmouth and the surrounding area.

Following this ruling, a Protection Zone was indicated on maps, showing a significant area - roughly circular around the borehole - within which NO development should be permitted which might pose a risk to the quality of the underground water.

Fast forward then to the proposal to site one of the most potentially polluting activities of all - a sewage treatment plant - well within the zone.

A significant amount of misinformation was vigorously presented, alleging that the quality of the underground water was poor and that SWW would be clobbered if that water was put into their public supply, since it contained an element harmful to public health, the amount thereof being described variously is ‘high’, ‘too high’ or ‘very high’.

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The writer heard these remarks on several occasions, notably, when, with other members of the Sid Vale Association, he attended a meeting of the Health Committee of the EDDC when questions were being put to a SWW executive concerned with the proposed Sidford development. The sad thing - apparent to some of us - was that the then members of the committee appeared to be incapable of asking the right questions and conducting a thorough interrogation.

Later, at County Hall, a meeting was held at which, from memory, at least the following were present, Councillor Hughes, a then member of the EDDC Health Committee, the relevant SWW executive, representatives from the Environment Agency, SWW’s Consultants, the Devon County Council; the late Managing Director of Victoria Laundry and the writer.

At the end, the writer insisted on asking the question ‘What is the content of the harmful element in the aquifer?’. All who should have known admitted total ignorance! The writer was able to say what level it did NOT exceed under pre-EU limits.

Ultimately, SWW were to provide the Laundry with uncontaminated water for cold rinsing etc., with their water from the aquifer bacterialogically contaminated in future. Prior to operation of the Sewage Plant, samples of the underground water were taken for analysis. The Laundry’s analysts couldn’t detect any of the ‘phantom’ element and the Laundry’s MD told the writer that SWW’s probably more sophisticated laboratory got the same result!! Thus, what in c. 1978 was a valuable resource, likely to be more so as time goes on, has been irrevocably lost.

What price the wisdom exercised by Peter Shore, when the arguments by both the predecessors of SWW and the Laundry prevailed?

How many more such lamentable episodes have occurred or are being planned? It seems that only lip service is paid to environmental protection, only to be blatantly ignored by those whose commercial cupidity is somewhat more highly developed.

Peter Wide

5 Sid Vale Green, Sidford