Sewage issue renews sea defence calls

the leak of raw sewage into the sea at Sidmouth has reinforced calls for better sea defences for the town.

Storms on Thursday night caused a power failure at the Ham pumping station, allowing the sewage to float out to sea.

The chairman of campaign group Sidmouth Against Flood Emergency, Tony Miller, said the situation was not surprising. “If nothing is done to bolster the eastern cliffs against further rapid erosion, we can expect this and other more serious situations to occur in future,” he said.

Mr Miller, of Cliff Road, urged East Devon District Council (EDDC) to “build sea defences to protect the cliffs and do it soon”.

He said: “The councillors at EDDC should be thoroughly ashamed and suitably humbled by this latest event, which is as a direct result of their inaction.

“What we saw last Thursday was a summer wind storm of moderate intensity, what on earth will happen in a full blown south-easterly during the winter season, I dread to think.”

An EDDC spokesman said it was “stretching scientific theory to the bounds of fantasy” to link the problems at the sewage treatment station with coastal defence issues at Sidmouth. He said: “The breakdown at the sewage plant on The Ham was caused by a power failure resulting from storms that interrupted electricity supplies at a number of local locations that night – including Axminster, Branscombe, Bridport, Charmouth and Exmouth.

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“The Sidmouth power failure resulted in sewage, not seawater, flooding the plant and this caused a further failure of electrical equipment.

“EDDC worked with South West Water (SWW) to inform the public of health and safety issues arising out of the problem and the joint effort resulted in a fast and satisfactory resolution. The council refutes any suggestion that it was in any way to blame for the incident.”

SWW got tankers to move the waste to Sidmouth Sewage Treatment Works until a temporary supply was installed at 1am on Saturday. It is working to restore the permanent power supply by the end of the week.

EDDC put up warning signs on Friday urging people not to enter the water, which were taken down on Saturday, when it was confirmed the water was safe for bathing. One anonymous Herald correspondent, an annual holidaymaker to the area, didn’t notice the signs until they got out of the water on Saturday morning. Their letter states: “There were several other people in the water as well, maybe they were risking it? Since if raw sewage is in the sea, surely it will end up on the beach – and isn’t that just as dangerous?”

Chairman of Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce Richard Eley was impressed by the response to the problem. He said: “SWW responded speedily and effectively. We are always grumbling and moaning but SWW threw a lot of people and machinery at the problem. They did a good job. The district council did at least remove the swimming ban as soon as it could.”