- Representatives of Southern Water to attend to address concerns raised by Parish Councils
Representatives of Southern Water (Sarah Feasey, Stakeholder Engagement Manager and Jean-Paul Collett, County Manger) were in attendance to answer concerns raised by parish councils.
A number of issues had been raised by Borough Green and Plaxtol Parish Councils and shared in detail with Southern Water in advance of the meeting. These included concerns around a potential lack of maintenance at the Maidstone Road pumping station; localised flooding and sewerage overspill in Hillview Close, the problem of raw sewage overflowing outside the houses on the footpath alongside the River Bourne, near to the Pumping Station at the bottom of Plough Hill, Basted and the need to upgrade the old Victorian sewer which residents believed was inadequate with the ageing pumps unable to cope with the through flow.
In response, the Panel was advised that the generator fault at the Pumping Station had been rectified and the facility was now operating at full capacity. It was also indicated that the third pump was a standby for emergencies and was extremely reliable.
Significant investment had been made by Southern Water to put flood mitigation measures in place. However, before any measures were implemented the potential implications for other properties were fully assessed and would not be put in place if there was the potential for diverse impacts. With regard to Hillview Close, the installation of anti-backup valves had been the appropriate way forward for the affected properties and the gravity managed system should have no impact on houses further up the network.
The main sewer adjacent to the pumping station had been replaced several years ago and was expected to last approximately seventy-five years. Therefore, Southern Water did not anticipate any significant problems related to general wear and tear in the near future.
Southern Water recognised concerns around the potential for pollution to rivers and waterways and assured the Panel that maintenance was undertaken regularly to prevent problems.
Work on Sevenoaks Road, including a large scale sewer rehabilitation scheme, had been recently completed and the structural condition of the public sewer was reasonably sound. High pressure jetting had been undertaken to clear the pipes and it was important to educate and raise awareness around proper waste disposal on a much wider scale.
The local Member for Borough Green asked that the following actions be considered:
- A single point of contact for local parishes with a senior engineer who would listen to local concerns and have the power to implement actions in a reasonable timescale; and
- Provide an emergency number for parishes to contact rather than rely on a call centre that had no local knowledge or authority to take action when required.
It was explained that Southern Water did not operate on an area catchment basis and there was one sewerage engineer for the whole County who provided support on specific issues. In addition, a single point of contact had the potential to create delays in responding to problems if that individual was uncontactable for any reason. The advantage of a call centre was that it was manned twenty fours a day, every day of the week. However, if parish councils were disappointed with the way a call was handled or the length of time it took to resolve a problem these could be raised with Sarah Feasey who would investigate the reasons for the delay. Long standing issues that had not yet been resolved could also be forwarded on to Sarah Feasey, for further investigation.
The emergency call out number would be provided to parish councils for information.
Whilst Borough Green and Plaxtol Parish Councils appreciated Southern Water’s attendance at the meeting and their technical knowledge regarding the sewer network, concern was expressed about the poor communication and customer service received.
In response, Southern Water advised that an improved communication strategy was in place and the organisation was committed to improving customer service. It was reported that written and escalated complaints had reduced by 80% since the adoption of the new strategy.
Members referred to new housing developments and asked whether Southern Water ever expressed concern about the impact of these additional properties on sewers. It was clarified that Southern Water was a statutory consultee on Local Plan proposals but not on individual applications. It was explained that Southern Water had a legal obligation to provide services to new properties if planning was approved. However, the Local Planning Authority had been asked to consult with Southern Water for developments over 20 properties, as the organisation had a duty to ensure that existing customers were not adversely impacted. Drainage Strategies were being developed in collaboration with other organisations and it was hoped that adequate planning would identify any problems going forward. The importance of having conditions related to water services applied to any planning permissions was also noted.
Southern Water was attempting to be more pro-active around development and growth and was asked to provide an update around any sites of concern. This would be circulated with the Minutes if available.
Finally, it was reiterated that Sarah Feasey, the Stakeholder Engagement Manager, was the point of contact within Southern Water to escalate outstanding issues. Email: Sarah.Feasey@southernwater.co.uk