SWW slammed with rock bottom rating due to eco concerns

South West Water is now the joint worst performing company among England’s nine water and sewerage firms.

Maybe its bosses should spend less time writing “greening” reports for “the Great South West” and concentrate on the day job.

Owl has previously expressed a number of concerns about the leading role played in “the Great South West” project by the Pennon Group

William Telford www.cornwalllive.com

South West Water has been given a rock bottom one-star rating for its environmental performance with the Environment Agency calling for its boss to face prison if there is a serious pollution incident. The Exeter-headquartered company, which supplies Plymouth, is now the joint worst performing company among England’s nine water and sewerage firms.

South West Water (SWW) and Southern Water received just a one-star rating in the Environment Agency’s (EA) four-star rating system. SWW, part of the Pennon Group Plc, lost the two-star rating it had held since 2016. It has never been higher than a two-star company.

Susan Davy, SWW chief executive, said she was “deeply disappointed” by the downgrading and vowed to make improvements and take the firm to four-star status. She said: “This is not where we want to be. I want to reassure our customers that the investments and changes we are already making across our network are delivering real results, including a one-third reduction in pollution incidents last year to the lowest number in 10 years.

“One pollution is one too many, and that’s why we are committed to bringing this down further year on year by strengthening our round-the-clock response, increasing resourcing levels by 25%, and investing £330m over the next three years in our wastewater network. However, we know there is significant progress still to make.”

The EA said the environmental performance of the water providers in 2021 was “the worst we have seen for years” and called for courts to impose much higher fines for serious and deliberate pollution incidents – and for prison sentences for chief executives and board members whose companies are responsible for the worst spills’.

The EA also wants company directors to be struck off after illegal environmental damage so they can’t get promotions and move on with their careers. The agency said fines currently handed down by the courts often amount to less than what a chief executive is paid.

Most companies’ performance declined, the new report said. Four companies – Anglian, Thames, Wessex and Yorkshire Water – were rated only two stars, which means they require significant improvement. The agency’s annual environmental performance report found serious pollution incidents increased to 62 in 2021, the highest total since 2013, with eight of the most serious category one incidents, compared with three in 2020.

Ms Davy said: “EPA assessment criteria are rightly becoming more stringent and customer expectations are increasing, reflecting the need for us to go further and faster in protecting and enhancing the UK’s natural environment. We remain committed to becoming a four-star EPA-rated company by the end of 2024.

“At the same time, we continue to take action on wider environmental issues that matter most to our customers, including on areas that are not included in the EPA assessment such as storm overflows and coastal bathing water quality. Earlier this year, we achieved 100% coastal bathing water quality for the first time across the South West’s 860 miles of coastline. In April, we launched WaterFit, our new plan for healthy rivers and seas, which will see South West Water dramatically reduce its use of storm overflows, maintain our excellent bathing water quality standards all year round, and remove our impact on river water quality by 2030.

“Since becoming CEO nearly two years ago, delivering our plans to protect our natural environment has been a key priority for me. South West Water is fully committed to playing its part in protecting and enhancing our rivers and seas now and in the future.”

In June water regulator Ofwat launched an investigation into SWW after becoming concerned about the way a sewage treatment works is operated. The company was added to a growing list of water suppliers to come under the microscope as the watchdog probes how wastewater companies manage their treatment works.