South West Water has apologised for sewage spillages in Exmouth and Sidmouth this week, after receiving an angry letter from the East Devon MP Simon Jupp.

Bathing waters at Sandy Bay and Sidmouth were affected on Monday, December 4, by a 90-minute spillage at the Maer Lane sewage treatment works in Exmouth and another from a manhole near the River Sid. South West Water self-reported to the Environment Agency, which issued advice against swimming in the two locations via its online tool Swimfo. The advice was removed after two high tide cycles had passed since the spillages stopped.

Yesterday, December 5, Simon Jupp wrote to Susan Davy, chief executive of the water firm’s parent company Pennon Group, demanding an ‘urgent response with a plan to address these spills’, which he described as ‘totally unacceptable’. He said: “We pay the highest sewerage bills in the country. We deserve better.”

The Herald has received a copy of Susan Davy’s letter responding to Mr Jupp. In it she said: “I too am concerned about any impact our operations and assets may have on the natural environment. I am deeply sorry for any impact we may have had on the bathing waters noted in your letter, and I want to assure you and the communities that my colleagues and I serve, that when incidents occur, we respond rapidly, and we thoroughly investigate every incident.”

She said the problem at Maer Lane had been caused by a ‘power blip’ in the operational control system, caused by the recent wet weather. She said a team were mobilised immediately but took 90 minutes to rectify the issue. She added: “…further investigations are underway to review our operational processes and decisions taken to see what we could do differently.”

Regarding the Sidmouth incident, she said an operator had attended after the report of the manhole overflowing and did not see any spillage, but the sewer level monitor is being investigated.

In his letter Mr Jupp also  raised the issue of storm overflow monitors being activated ‘in the last 24 hours’ across Exmouth, at Granary Lane and Lime Kiln in Budleigh Salterton, at the Seaton South sewage treatment works and Harbour Road pumping station overflow.

Susan Davy said the use of the overflows was due to the heavy rainfall, and this system had historically been used to prevent sewage flowing into streets and homes. She said: “Today, these are unacceptable, and we are accelerating investment to reduce their use and benefit communities. For all the locations noted in your letter, we are committed to investing between now and 2030 to significantly change how the assets operate, and where we can, remove excess surface water flows from the network.

“I acknowledge that trust in our service due to sewage, pollutions and the use of storm overflows has fallen. It is my job to fix these issues and over time rebuild trust.”

She has offered to discuss the proposed measures with Simon Jupp, and said the company’s chief operating officer John Halsall will share the results of the investigations into Monday’s incidents.

Mr Jupp said: “In response to my letter regarding potentially illegal sewage spills in the last 48 hours, South West Water have launched an investigation which I will be following closely. I’ve also contacted the Environment Agency and urged them to launch a full, independent investigation into these potentially illegal spills. The Environment Agency has said these spills – due to infrastructure failure – are non-compliant with strict permit conditions. I won’t stop my calls for change until South West Water clean up their act and our water.”

South West Water is holding a public drop-in session this afternoon at Kennaway House in Sidmouth to talk about the improvements currently under way in the area, and its investment plans for the 2025-2030 period. The session will take place from 2pm until 6pm and anyone is welcome to attend, with no prior booking.