Hailsham residents say sewage system is a ‘disgrace’ after ‘human waste’ in street

Overflowing manhole in Old Swan Lane, Hailsham
Overflowing manhole in Old Swan Lane, Hailsham

Hailsham residents say local sewage-systems are a ‘disgrace’ after ‘human waste’ was found in the street - and a new housing development will make matters worse.

Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) charity, has also voiced its concerns about climate change after recent heavy rain caused ‘raw sewage’ to escape through manholes in Hailsham.

Dirty water escaping from manhole

Dirty water escaping from manhole

Beverly Daisy, from Eastbourne, visited her parents in Hailsham last week. She said, “In the last nine days, two drains have been flooded across the road, so much so the local taxi company will not pick up my elderly parents.”

Beverly said her parents had to walk to the doctors’ surgery. She said, “By the time they got home they were soaking-wet through. Ninety retired residents have been cut off down Lion Park House. It is unacceptable.

“There was sanitary products, human waste and toilet tissue in the water. Southern Water has not done anything about this drainage problem.

“What is more concerning is more houses on the corner have been built and there are plans to build another 800. Southern Water’s motivation is money.”

Other Hailsham residents said the town’s infrastructure will not be able to support the additional 3,000 new homes expected to be allocated in the new local plan.

Hailsham resident Carrieann Whittington said, “It’s a disgrace. Hailsham south sewer system was at capacity between six and 10 years ago and has never been updated.”

Local resident Judith Marsh said, “When there is a problem, our toilets are affected. This is exactly what happened last week (November 14).

“I called out Southern Water to test the water and they said that fortunately there is no ammonia in the watercourse this time, but there is diesel. The village stinks and the oil can be seen floating in the water course.”

The CPRE Sussex chair Dan Osborn said, “Situations like this can be expected to be features of the future unless infrastructure improvements precede housing development.

“We need to prepare now for the more frequent episodes of intense rainfall that come with a changing climate.”

CPRE Sussex’s Wealden representative Nick Daines is calling for a halt on all development in Hailsham until the problem is fixed.

Mr Daines said, “Clearly the recent rain has shown weaknesses in Southern Water’s foul sewerage network in Hailsham and these need to be urgently remedied before more of the hundreds of houses, granted permission by Wealden for this part of the town, are built.”

A CPRE spokesperson said the charity is concerned the speed of development across Sussex combined with increased rainfall due to climate change, may pose a challenge for the Southern Water’s wider infrastructure.

Mr Daines said, “Sometimes the foul from a recent development will be transported to the treatment works in a sewer that is already carrying a combined flow from the upstream town/village centre.

“It is when there is prolonged heavy rain that the combined sewer can become surcharged and will push up manhole covers to permit foul sewage escape.”

A CPRE spokesperson said the problem in Hailsham could have been caused by a waste water network known as a ‘combined sewage system’ – the same design is common across Sussex.

The system works by using the same pipes for both surface water and sewage with ‘storm tanks’ at the treatment works to take the overflow in times of heavy rainfall.

The CPRE spokesperson said the problem was still ongoing in Hailsham, even as Wealden Council met to agree outline planning for 100 of the 720 houses to be built on fields next to the polluted floodwater.

CPRE Sussex’s John Kay said, “Such releases are bad anywhere, but devastating here.”

Southern Water’s response:

“We’re sorry to say the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing has caused problems at our Hailsham site and other drainage systems around the area.

“Even though the environment has been protected, it’s obviously not pleasant for residents to see the mess created when systems overload with rainwater. Their concern is understandable.

“The weather in our part of the world hasn’t been as extreme as some parts of the country but it really does put stress on our systems.

“Our specialist teams have been working incredibly hard to minimise the flooding but we know this hasn’t been completely successful. We would welcome the chance to talk to any customers who feel they have been affected.

“I can tell you the river and surrounding area never suffered environmental damage. And last week we tested the water at Old Swan Road, which showed there was no wastewater at this location- just surface water running off the surrounding fields on the road.

“We welcomed CPRE Sussex staff for a site visit to our Hailsham south wastewater treatment works some months ago, where we discussed our £50 million investment to upgrade that works, as well as our Hailsham north facility and several other smaller local treatment works.

“This investment is to cater for local growth in Wealden, while protecting and enhancing the Pevensey levels. These improvements will be completed by late 2021, a timescale based on when new housing will be coming forward.

“We have extensive liaison over these upgrade projects with Wealden District Council, the Environment Agency, Natural England and others.

“Of course, we are also working with developers and Wealden DC via the planning process to ensure that our sewer network is upgraded to accommodate new housing, with us only accepting foul water from new homes generally, meaning surface water from development sites needs to be dealt with separately.”