‘Grave concerns’ about South West Water’s performance will be debated by East Devon District Council this week.

A strongly-worded motion is going before the full council on Wednesday (February 21) declaring ‘no confidence’ in the company’s sewage management systems.

The motion states that there is ‘widespread concern’ among East Devon residents, and notes ‘with alarm’ that specific measures to improve the capacity of the sewage system, identified in 2010, ‘have not been actioned’.

It also raises concerns about new housing developments that will put additional pressure on the sewage system, and says South West Water should work more closely with EDDC, as the planning authority, to manage this issue.

Additionally, it criticises the cut in government funding to the Environment Agency – ‘the relevant regulatory authority’ – which has decreased by more than half in real terms between 2009-10 and 2021-22.

The motion has been proposed by Cllr Todd Olive, seconded by Cllr Geoff Jung, and signed by 13 other EDDC members, including the leader of the council Paul Arnott. All are members of the Democratic Alliance political group,

It refers to South West Water’s performance across the whole of East Devon, but highlights the recent series of sewage pipe failures in Exmouth, and says the company also omitted to tell the district council about sewage discharges into the sea during the same period.

It states that ‘a failure to properly control sewage overflows into rivers and associated phosphate pollution is actively undermining efforts by East Devon District Council and others to promote ecological recovery, biodiversity, and nature restoration’.

The motion proposes that the leader of the council should write publicly to the chief executive of South West Water, inviting the company to undertake several measures to improve its communication and co-operation with the district council.

It suggests that local MPs should be asked to lobby the Government over ‘weak’ legislation on reducing phosphate pollution in rivers from sewage overflows, and the need for ‘more immediate action’ to reduce storm overflows and tackle capacity issues.

The Government, it says, should resist South West Water’s proposal to increase bills by more than 20 per cent until ‘demonstrable action’ has been taken on sewage spills. It should also restore Environment Agency funding to 2009-10 real-terms levels and ‘properly fund other environmental regulators, to ensure that polluting activities are fully and robustly monitored, investigated, and where necessary enforcement action taken’.

The opinions and actions included in the motion will be discussed at the full council meeting, which starts at 6pm on Wednesday, before being put to the vote.