Update Wednesday: No-swim warning at five Devon beaches

Budleigh is now open but Exmouth, Sidmouth and Beer are still closed

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com 

People are being advised not to swim in the sea at five holiday beaches along the south Devon coast due to the risk of pollution. The alerts have been issued warning of possible contamination due to heavy rain, in some places causing storm overflows to discharge untreated sewage into the water.

The warnings were in place on Wednesday for the beaches at Wembury, near Plymouth, Teignmouth Town, Exmouth, Sidmouth Town and Beer. A notice for each location said: “Pollution Risk Warning: Bathing not advised today due to the likelihood of reduced water quality.” Exmouth, Sidmouth and Beer are on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and in the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Warnings were also in place for 11 beaches in Cornwall.

The warnings coming at the height of the tourism season were published by the Safer Seas and Rivers Service from the campaign group Surfers Against Sewage. It is also available as a mobile phone app and monitors 400 locations around the UK coast, issuing alerts based on real-time tracking of combined sewage overflows and pollution risk forecasts.

The service gave details of the following Devon locations where warnings were in place:

  • Wembury: There is a sewer overflow from Wembury pumping station that discharges 50m upstream of the beach.
  • Teignmouth: A sewer overflow at the railway station discharges northeast of the beach.
  • Exmouth: There is a sewer overflow discharging through an outfall to the south east which may affect bathing water quality especially after heavy rainfall.
  • Sidmouth: Two sewer overflows are located at Sidmouth, one discharges through a long sea outfall some 600m out to sea while the other discharges into the River Sid, just under 400m to the east.
  • Beer: Three sewer overflows surround Beer with one discharging from Beer car park, one discharging 600m North East and one slightly further to the South.

The Envrionment Agency , which assesses water quality at designated bathing beaches, had precautionary alerts on Wednesday advising against swimming in the sea at Wembury, Teignmouth and Exmouth. The warnings followed alerts on Tuesday for Exmouth, Goodrington, Paignton and Budleigh Salterton, and at the weekend for Saunton in North Devon, where the water was contaminated by sheep manure.

Heavy rain can trigger legally allowed storm overflows to prevent pipes which carry a mixture of rainwater and sewage backing up to flood roads, homes and businesses. Downpours can also wash animal waste and fertiliser into rivers and seas, causing pollution.

South West Water, which provides water and sewerage services in Devon, said in a statement: “The alerts raised at Teignmouth and Exmouth today were from the Environment Agency’s Pollution Risk Forecast (PRF system) which triggers precautionary alerts when weather conditions pose a potential risk to water quality along with other factors, and were not related to SWW activity.

“Alerts have been raised for Sidmouth and Beer in relation to stormwater overflows which may temporarily impact bathing water quality – these are precautionary and we expect them to be removed soon.”

A South West Water spokesperson said: “In recent days we have seen heavy localised rainfall which followed the prolonged period of hot and dry weather. As a result, the rain hasn’t been able to permeate into the ground and a significant volume has run into our network, which can cause our storm overflows to trigger. We continue to invest in our network to reduce the use of storm overflows as part of our WaterFit plan.”

The company says its plan will “dramatically reduce our use of storm overflows, maintain our region’s excellent bathing water quality standards all year round and reduce and then remove our impact on river water quality by 2030.” It says storm overflows act as a legal safety valve to prevent sewers becoming overloaded and flooding homes, roads and businesses. South West Water achieved 100per cent coastal bathing water quality for the first across 860 miles of coastline earlier this year.

Surfers Against Sewage said: “Water companies discharged raw sewage into UK waters over 370,000 times in 2021 alone, demonstrating just how important real-time pollution alerts are in helping the public dodge poor water quality and have the cleanest and safest experience possible.”

It said a poll it commissioned found more than half the British public (52%) were scared of swimming outside due to not knowing if the water is clean or polluted. It said of the one in six Brits (17%) that have tried wild swimming in UK waters, more than half (55%) had fallen ill.

Sewage pollution alerts issued for almost 50 beaches in England and Wales

Pollution warnings are in place for almost 50 beaches in England and Wales after untreated sewage was discharged into the sea around the coast.

By Claire Marshall BBC Environment & Rural Affairs Correspondent www.bbc.co.uk

Official data shows discharges have taken place since Monday and Southern Water says they have been made to protect homes and businesses.

It follows a period of heavy rain across southern England, after a spell of extremely dry weather.

Data was provided by water companies to the Safer Seas and Rivers Service.

The service is run by the charity Surfers Against Sewage.

Many of the beaches contaminated are popular resorts, and include Bognor Regis, Lulworth Cove, Newquay, Seaford and Southend-on-Sea.

The majority are along England’s south coast.

Sewage discharges

Southern Water is one of the water companies responsible for those regions, along with Wessex Water and South West Water.

In a statement, Southern Water said: “There were thunderstorms accompanied by heavy rain the night before last and yesterday [Tuesday]. Storm releases were made to protect homes, schools and businesses from flooding. The release is 95-97% rainwater and so should not be described as raw sewage.

“We know customers do not like that the industry has to rely on these [discharges] to protect them, and we are pioneering a new approach.”

Last year Southern Water was fined a record £90m after admitting deliberately dumping vast amounts of sewage into sea across the south coast.

These kind of discharges – which are legal – mostly happen after heavy rain, when there is a risk that pipes, which carry storm-water along with sewage, may overflow.

This is only supposed to happen in exceptional circumstances. However, in 2020 and 2021, there were almost 400,000 spill events.

Protecting health

In a statement, the Environment Agency said that sewage pollution could be “devastating to human health, local biodiversity and our environment”. It said it would not “hesitate to act to eliminate the harm sewage discharges cause to the environment”.

It has previously called for the top executives of England’s water companies to face jail when serious incidents of pollution occur.

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Our rivers and beaches are once again being treated as open sewers. Years of underinvestment is now in plain sight.”

The government has said it intends to produce a plan to reduce storm overflows by 2022. This was made a legal requirement by the Environment Act 2021.

 

Decision on Straitgate’s appeal funding deferred

A decision on whether Ottery St Mary Town Council will contribute towards the legal fees for an action group to fight a planning appeal relating to Straitgate Quarry has been deferred.

Adam Manning www.sidmouthherald.co.uk

At a town council meeting, councillors agreed to refer the matter of paying a contribution to the  legal costs incurred by the Straitgates Action Group to its financial committee.

Last month the Herald reported that a hearing has been launched by quarry firm Aggregate Industries after Devon County Council and Ottery St Mary Town Council rejected plans for the 100-acre quarry near Ottery St Mary.  

Concerns have been raised about footing the legal bill but the council has reiterated it’s support for the fight to uphold the original decision.

After the last town council meeting in July, it was agreed  that the Council`s CEO should seek further advice regarding the council contributing towards  the action group`s legal costs, and, if appropriate, carry out an online poll to gauge public opinion 

A six-day hearing for the quarry is set to take place at Exeter City Football Club from Tuesday, October 4.

In December last year, Devon County Council’s development management committee voted against the plan for Straitgate Farm on Exeter Road, submitted by Aggregate Industries UK Ltd.  

The scheme would have seen up to 1.5 million tonnes of sand and gravel dug up on the site over the next 10 to 12 years, before being transported 23 miles by road to Hillhead Quarry in Mid Devon for processing. 

Councillor Roger Giles said: “The strait gate action group have the same views as us on this, we think the same things they are fighting it and will participate in the hearing with their barristers and a water expert etc in October.

“It’s important we give them the right funding and its completely correct that we help fund it.” 

The matter is now deferred to the finance committee of Ottery Town Council. 

 

Boris Johnson’s summer of fun: what has the PM been doing?

In three weeks’ time, Boris Johnson will no longer be UK prime minister. But, as many have observed, you could be forgiven for thinking he had already left.

Rachel Hall www.theguardian.com 

Despite the country being beset by a series of crises, from the mounting cost of living crisis to war in Ukraine, he has been accused of leading a “zombie” government.

So what exactly has he been doing?

June: the ‘summer sausage offensive’

In late June, and in an effort to save his own bacon, Johnson embarked on a busy schedule of “barbecues and drinks” at his grace-and-favour residence, Chequers.

Described as a “summer sausage offensive”, the goal was to reward party loyalists who had promised to vote for him in the event of a no-confidence vote.

July: Sweet Caroline – and the Bamford wedding bash

Although that strategy failed, it didn’t deter him from hosting further parties. On July 25 he missed a Cobra meeting to discuss the heatwave to host a leaving bash attended by senior Tories including Nadine Dorries.

Labour accused Johnson of being “missing in action” as he “prepares to party while Britain boils”.

Johnson’s busy social calendar at Chequers was set to culminate in a “champagne-soaked soiree” in celebration of his one-year wedding anniversary – however he backed away from having it there amid rumours that the only reason he insisted on remaining in power over the summer was to keep access to the residence.

Recognising his travails, a major Tory donor, Lord Bamford, reportedly stepped in to offer up his 18th-century Cotswolds estate to host a lavish party.

The “festival-esque” celebration – said to have included a steel band, rum punch, Abba songs and a conga – on 30 July was intended to compensate for the scaled-back wedding Johnson and Carrie organised during the pandemic.

The guest list is understood to have presented a “headache” for the couple, with erstwhile allies having received save-the-date invitations a year before their subsequent betrayal.

A video of the Johnsons’ first dance – to the tune of Sweet Caroline – was leaked to the Tory-supporting political website Guido Fawkes.

“Some questionable dad dancing moves from Boris there,” was how the blog described the prime minister’s routine.

August: Mini-moon, ‘that’ meeting … and then to Greece

The wedding was followed by a “mini-moon”, a neologism coined to describe a second honeymoon usually taken immediately after a wedding and prior to a larger, more extravagant trip.

Johnson disappeared on 3 August, with the location undisclosed for security reasons, prompting speculation about where he was going and who was paying for it.

It later emerged he was staying at a five-star eco-hotel – Vila Planinka in the Slovenian mountains. It promises “healing energies” for its guests, with rooms costing between £242 and £541 a night. They have no electronic devices and wifi is available only upon request to enable people to “rest and unpack themselves from everyday worries” – possibly not the ideal setup for the leader of a country of 67 million people.

A Downing Street spokesperson refused to say if a Tory donor funded the trip, but insisted that no taxpayers’ money had been used.

After his return on 11 August, following pressure – including from the CBI chief executive – to introduce immediate support to households struggling with soaring energy bills, Johnson made headline-grabbing news: he turned up to a meeting.

However, hopes that one of his final appearances might produce a more compelling legacy than his ride in a Typhoon fighter jet to open Farnborough airshow on 18 July soon gave way to disappointment. Johnson declined to offer any new help on energy bills now, instead deferring responsibility to the new prime minister in September to provide extra financial support.

For those wondering whether Johnson had taken the ensuing backlash to heart, he was spotted on Sunday. Not in a Westminster backroom with his two potential successors thrashing out emergency relief, but rather on his second holiday in two weeks, filmed shopping for groceries in a supermarket in Greece.

Greek news websites reported that Johnson and his wife, Carrie, were in Nea Makri, a coastal town near Athens located a few hours away from where his father, Stanley, has a villa.

Son of Tory donor who hosted Boris Johnson’s wedding party handed lucrative government contract

The son of a Tory donor who hosted the Prime Minister’s wedding party was given an £11.2 million grant by the UK government, it has been revealed.

April Curtin www.thelondoneconomic.com 

Jo Bamford, CEO of Wrightbus, was given the cash to build hydrogen buses for his company Wrightbus in March 2021.

His father, billionaire businessman Lord Bamford, hosted Johnson and Carries’ wedding do at his Cotswolds estate in late July.

Lord Bamford, who is chairman of construction equipment manufacturer JCB, has donated millions to the Conservative party, and is understood to have paid for some of the costs towards the PM’s wedding celebration.

Wrightbus provided the world’s first ‘zero-emission’, double-decker buses powered by hydrogen, and has won publicly-funded contracts – worth millions – to supply these vehicles across the UK.

Jo Bamford’s other company, Ryze Hydrogen, is facilitating a £45million hydrogen and infrastructure distribution hub for Lanarkshire, and has signed a deal to import tankers of hydrogen from Australia.

Speaking to the Daily Record, SNP Cabinet Office spokesman Brendan O’Hara MP said “Tory cronyism”  has been “endemic” under Johnson’s leadership, and that the public deserve transparency regarding the £11.2million payout.

“He may be going, but the legacy that will follow Boris Johnson is one of Tory sleaze,” O’Hara said.

Economy spokesman for the Lib Dems, Willie Rennie, agreed that transparency about how such contracts are “dished out” is needed, and described the relationship between Tory donors and Tory Ministers responsible for awarding multi-million-pound contracts as “unhealthy”.

A UK Government spokesperson told the publication: “All contracts are awarded in line with procurement regulations and transparency guidelines and there are robust rules and processes in place to prevent conflicts of interest.”

Ofwat chief defends water companies over lack of new reservoirs

The head of the water regulator for England and Wales has defended water companies against criticism over not building new reservoirs despite high levels of executive bonuses and shareholder dividends.

Helena Horton www.theguardian.com 

David Black, the chief executive of Ofwat, also said old pipes were not to blame for leaks and that most companies were meeting their leakage targets.

Water companies have come under criticism as England faces water shortages. Some homes have run out of water, rivers have turned dry and farmers are facing crop failures. Many are outraged at the companies for failing to invest in reservoirs, fix leaks and stop sewage pollution from their pipes.

The bosses of England’s water companies have been criticised for banking £58m in pay and benefits over the last five years. Since privatisation, shareholders have been paid £72bn in dividends. The cash has come from big debts, with companies having borrowed £56bn, and big bills, with prices having risen 40%.

However, Black said critics were not giving companies enough credit for actions being taken to reduce leaks and improve water supply, and suggested they did not understand the “complex” issue.

He told the BBC’s Today programme: “There isn’t sufficient account given to what’s happening in the sector; we appreciate it’s complex and difficult to understand.”

Ofwat has the power to fine companies 10% of their turnover if they do not meet targets. Despite high levels of leakage, many companies are meeting these targets, which has led campaigners to question whether they are strict enough. For instance, Thames Water has 11,000 leaks across its system but is not falling below the regulator’s standards.

Black said: “Thames Water are not in breach of their performance, by my understanding. There are risks of leaks across the networks. Some of the biggest problems we face on networks are in modern infrastructure, it’s simply not the case that this is down to old pipes.”

Many have also criticised water companies as no new major reservoir has been built since privatisation in the 1980s, but Black said they were not needed. He said: “The reason there were no reservoirs is that demand had actually fallen over that period.”

He also defended the large pay water company bosses and shareholders have been given, saying it made them more competitive in the global market.

Campaigners said they did not agree with Black’s assessment and were shocked that he suggested they did not understand the issue.

Stuart Singleton-White, head of campaigns at the Angling Trust, said: “It is painful to hear Ofwat, who are complicit in our broken water sector, acting as apologists for that system and water companies. Ofwat have prevented a lot of the investment needed and allowed companies to take huge profits and screw our rivers.”

Christine Colvin, advocacy and engagement director at the Rivers Trust, said: “This drought highlights that the targets and timelines agreed with the water sector are not enough to ensure we are climate resilient for the long haul. Why are we now talking expensive inter-basin transfers when we’re leaking a fifth of our water supply?”

Some MPs also believe that Ofwat needs to take firmer action against water companies. Philip Dunne, the Conservative MP and chair of the environmental audit committee, said the regulator needed to do more to restore public trust in water companies.

He told the Guardian: “The performance of water companies is under the spotlight now more than ever before. Sewage pollution incidents and leaks wasting 20% of our mains water supply every day is eroding public trust. It is clear that there is much to do to make our water sector fit for purpose, particularly as the effects of climate change are likely to make water scarcity worse in the coming decades.

“To lead to meaningful improvements, the boards of water companies must be encouraged to develop plans to manage water resources and treatment, and work with the regulators to ensure that these can be delivered.”

Ofwat declined to comment further.

Liz Truss accused of branding British workers lazy in leaked audio

Critics of Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss have accused her of suggesting British workers were “lazy” in comments made in a leaked recording.

[Raises the question: is failure to improve productivity just something to do with workers, as implied by Truss, or does it require a different economic model focusing on investment and the longer term? – Owl]

www.bbc.co.uk

In the audio, published by the Guardian newspaper, Ms Truss suggested British citizens lacked the “skill and application” of foreign nationals.

Labour said her comments were “offensive” and “effectively brand British workers as lazy”.

Asked about the remarks, the foreign secretary did not deny making them.

“I don’t know what you’re quoting there,” Ms Truss said under questioning at a Tory leadership event on Tuesday evening.

“But the point that I’ve always made is what we need in this country is more productivity across the country and we need more economic growth.”

The party’s roughly 200,000-strong membership are voting for their next leader, who will succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister in September.

The Guardian report said Ms Truss made the comments in the audio when she was chief secretary to the Treasury, a role she held between 2017 and 2019.

The report did not reveal the source of the audio recording, parts of which were redacted.

In the two-minute clip, Ms Truss said British workers’ “mindset and attitude” were partly to blame for them producing less per hour than their foreign counterparts, suggesting they needed “more graft”.

Ms Truss said in the recording: “Essentially it’s partly a mindset and attitude thing I think. Yeah, its working culture basically. If you go to China it’s quite different, I can assure you…

“There’s a fundamental issue of British working culture. Essentially if we’re going to be a richer country and a more prosperous country, that needs to change.

“But I don’t think people are that keen to change that.”

Speaking on difference in productivity in the UK, she said: “If you look at productivity, it’s very, very different in London from the rest of the country.”

A Truss campaign source said the comments were “half a decade old” and lacked “context”, while acknowledging the UK does “need to boost productivity”.

“As prime minister, Liz will deliver an economy that is high wage, high growth and low tax,” the source said.

The Office for National Statistics says every country has seen slower growth in output per worker since 2009 when compared with the pre-financial crisis period.

OECD figures show that in 2019, the UK came fourth highest in the rankings of GDP per hour worked among G7 countries.

Ms Truss, who has consistently led Mr Sunak in polls, has put her tax-cutting plan for boosting economic growth at the centre of her pitch to Conservative members.

The remarks by Ms Truss echo controversial arguments made in a 2012 book she co-authored, “Britannia Unchained”, in which British workers were described as among the “worst idlers in the world”.

Asked about it at a leadership debate last month, Ms Truss distanced herself from the contentious assessment, claiming co-author and Sunak supporter Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, had written it.

Mr Raab has subsequently said the authors of the book, which also included several other senior Conservative ministers, had agreed “collective responsibility” over its contents.

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the “Britannia Unchained fiasco” seemed to be “the blueprint” for Ms Truss’s prospective government.

“Workers across the country are working all hours to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table and provide for their families,” he said.

“Liz Truss should be helping working people to cope with this cost of living crises, as Labour this week outlined we would do, not peddling this offensive nonsense.”

The BBC approached Mr Sunak’s team for comment on the matter but received no response.