Written evidence submitted Anonymously
I submit this as a member of the public.
Sewage pollution in South Tyneside’s watercourses and coastline.
(Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.)
I have done a lot of research into sewage pollution in South Tyneside, especially pertaining to Whitburn.
My research has mainly involved the discharging of untreated sewage out to sea but I have looked at the state of sewage pollution in our local rivers and from the local sewage treatment works.
At Whitburn, South Tyneside, we have an extremely important set of baselines for your call for evidence in that:
Snapshot of sewage pollution locally
(It is appreciated that the sewage pollution totals will be mirrored in other parts of the country – but here in Whitburn we can determine volumes).
• In 2017, 569,221.5 tonnes of untreated sewage were pumped into the North Sea via the Long Sea Outfall at Whitburn
• In 2017/18, the Hendon treatment works overflowed untreated sewage into the North Sea on 124 days when the rainfall was a moderate 664 mm for the period.
• In 2018, 376,593 tonnes of untreated sewage were pumped into the North Sea via the Long Sea Outfall at Whitburn
• In 2018, untreated sewage spilled out of combined sewer overflows into the mouth of the River Wear 427 times for 1751 hours.
• In 2018 the number of times the South Tyneside CSOs with EDMs fitted overflowed into the rivers Tyne and Don amounted to 823 times. The total hours the CSOs flowed into local watercourses totalled 2958.5 hours.
• In 2018/19 the total rainfall for the period was a relatively light 484 mm yet the Hendon
treatment works overflowed untreated sewage into the sea on 89 days of that year
Overview of sewage treatment capacity deficiencies in South Tyneside.
The sewage treatment works (STW) at Hendon, Sunderland is supposed to treat the wastewater generated by the residents of Cleadon, East Boldon, Whitburn and the main part of North and South Sunderland in line with The Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations 1994.
The Hendon STW does not have the capacity to deal with the volumes of wastewater generated by the population it is supposed to serve. The sewage undertaker relies on huge discharges of untreated wastewater into the local watercourses and the North Sea so the STW does not get swamped with sewage.
Historic local campaigns against Sewage Pollution
In October 2001 a public inquiry took place into levels of permitted sewage discharge into the sea on a stretch of the North-East coast.
Representatives from Northumbrian Water said the extra provision it sought was needed only occasionally, during periods of heavy rainfall. It believed the new treatment centre at Hendon was capable of coping on all but a handful of days a year.
The inquiry, overseen by inspector Rupert Grantham, lasted for three weeks at the Seaburn Marriott Hotel in Sunderland. The Inspector recommended discharge permits be issued but with strict conditions attached.
Campaigners regarded this as only a partial victory in the struggle against sewage pollution.
European Court of Justice are called in to help.
Proceedings to tackle sewage pollution were also taking place in the year 2000 at a European level. These proceedings took 12 years to reach a conclusion and in October 2012 Stephen Hughes, Labour MEP for the North East Region celebrated the European Court of Justice’s decision against the UK government for non-compliance with EU environmental legislation in allowing sewage to be discharged into the North Sea from Whitburn. (Case C301/10 - European Court of Justice.)
Present situation regarding continued non compliance with Urban Waste Water Treatment Legislation
After the ECJ decision, remedial work was planned to bring the Whitburn system into compliance with the UWWTD. (This same ECJ decision brought about the £4.1 billion investment to build London’s super sewer)
Despite the eventual £10 million investment in 2017, the Whitburn sewage system discharged 760,993.5 tonnes of untreated sewage discharged via the Long Sea outfall at Whitburn in 2019. Discharges were made 75 times over 24 days. This showed no improvement and could qualify as a deteriorating situation when you consider part of the remedial work was to divert a large amount of surface water away from the system
In 2020 the Whitburn system was still regarded by the European Commission as not complying with EU environmental legislation. Untreated sewage continues to be discharged in light to moderate rainfall in the absence of exceptional circumstances.
It is the view of the European Court of Justice that failure to treat urban wastewater cannot be accepted under usual climatic and seasonal conditions, as otherwise the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (91/271) would be rendered meaningless.
The European Commission informed the UK authorities in October 2020:
"Given the continued elevated level of spills since December 2017, both in terms of frequency and quantity, the Commission is of the opinion that the main elements of the judgment of the Court in case C- 301/10 with regard to Whitburn have not been met. "
Evidence of sewage discharges in light rainfall in 2020 (Not exceptional circumstances)
In the first 6 months of 2020 a modest 92.4 mm of rain was recorded at the nearest weather station to Whitburn (Fulwell weather station) and 149,557.50 tonnes of untreated wastewater were discharged.
The 15-minute interval rainfall figures for the area for the first 6 months of 2020 have been plotted against the discharge figures for the Long Sea Outfall at Whitburn and the following table produced.
Rainfall Period Hours
Average Rainfall per Hour
Volume m3 per mm rain
The UK Met office use the following to describe rainfall:
Light = less than 0.5 mm/hr,
Moderate = 0.5 to 4 mm/hr,
Heavy = more than 4 mm/hr
92.40 mm of rain fell during the first 6 months of 2020 (leading up to and during discharge operations) for a total of 82.5 hours.
The maximum hourly rainfall during these 6 months fell on 15/02/20 between 17.45 and 18.45 when a cumulative total of 5 mm of rain fell during that hour as follows:
15/02/2020 17:45:00 1.2mm
15/02/2020 18:00:00 1.8 mm
15/02/2020 18:15:00 0.4 mm
15/02/2020 18:30:00 1.6 mm
This is the only hour of the 82.5 hours when the rain could be classed as anywhere near as heavy enough to trigger a discharge.
The remaining 72.5 hours did not generate the enormous volumes of rainfall that the Environment Agency regards as necessary to trigger the discharge.
The average rainfall during these rainy 82.5 hours was 1.12 mm per hour. (Moderate rainfall)
For every 1 mm of rain that fell, 1,618 tonnes of untreated wastewater were discharged into the North Sea.
This failure to treat urban wastewater under what can be considered as usual climatic and seasonal conditions is not in compliance with either the UWWTD (91/271) or the Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations 1994
The position taken by Local Authorities
South Tyneside Council are intending to build over 7,000 new homes as per their Draft Local Plan. 2,600 of these homes are proposed to be built on greenbelt sites which have no current sewerage infrastructure.
The local authorities in Sunderland and South Tyneside have washed their hands of the issue and defer to Northumbrian Water (NWL) who claim they have the capacity to treat sewage.
In reality NWL continue to over rely on disposing of sewage into local watercourses and into the North Sea. NWL also shut down Ultra Violet (UV) treatment of sewage at most of their sewage treatment works over the winter months (October to April). UV treatment kills bacteria and viruses.
South Tyneside Council are conveniently ignoring the evidence has been produced and provided to them that refutes this assertion that there are no capacity issues within the wastewater network. They are failing in their statutory duty to ensure that wastewater treatment capacity exists before planning permission is granted as per the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
The councils take the stance that developers have a right to connect to the public sewer system and there is nothing they can do about it.
The case South Tyneside Council quote is Barratt Homes Limited v Dwr Cymru Cyfyngedig (Welsh Water)  UKSC13. https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2009-0038-judgment.pdf
What the local authorities fail to mention was that the Supreme Court noted that, since the building of a development requires planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, planning authorities are able to make planning permission conditional upon the public water authority first taking steps to ensure that the public sewer can accommodate any increased flow.
The position of the regulator
The EA were told that the £10 million spent in 2017 on sewage system improvements in the Seaburn / Roker area did not produce the improvements in sewage pollution levels (760,000 tonnes of sewage was discharged through this system at Whitburn in 2019). They replied that it would take a 10 year study to determine if the improvements are working. They want to kick the issue into the long grass.
There is evidence that the EA have failed to regulate local discharge permits.
An Environmental Information Request to the Environment Agency (EA) on 9th September
2020 was made requesting the following:
A detailed description of all records of the daily volume and instantaneous flow of all
sewered flows to the Hendon, Sunderland, sewage treatment works site over a period of no
less than 3 months as directed by the secretary of state in the permit conditions consenting
to discharges since the 8th March 1993
The reply from the EA received on 8th October 2020 was as follows:
Information not held
A connection was made by the local sewage undertaker (Northumbrian Water Limited) from manhole 6702 to manhole 5609 at Seaburn, Sunderland. This new connection, I understand, was made around 2015 and connected a newly constructed combined sewer overflow to the storm interceptor tunnel. The exact locations of the combined sewer overflows that are allowed to flow into the storm interceptor tunnel are identified in the sewage discharge environmental permit (245/1207). Neither MH 6702 or MH 5609 are one of the combined sewer overflows identified on the permit and I contend that this connection is illegal as no application has been made by the sewage undertaker to vary the conditions of the permit.
A local EA manager has described this connection as ‘not significant’. He claims to have the authority to simply append the new connection to the permit. This is not the case as the conditions were laid down by the Secretary of State for the Environment. A local EA manager does not have the authority to amend these conditions.
The position of the Local Sewage Undertaker
Northumbrian Water limited maintain they have sewage treatment capacity for the present population and for all future developments, despite being in breach of the UWWTD
A local senior NWL manager was asked “referring to the sewer plan presented to a council meeting in Sunderland on 4th November 2020 - how can you claim to Sunderland City Councillors that 6 times Dry Weather Flows are pumped over Wearmouth Bridge when the capacity of the sewage treatment works at Hendon is only 3 times Dry Weather Flow?
The manager replied - "That's why we have CSOs"
This shows a disregard for sewage pollution in our rivers. The sewage undertaker is over using CSO discharges to compensate for a lack of sewage treatment capacity.
The same manager stated that it was not technically possible to install flow monitors to record the daily volume and instantaneous flow of all sewered flows to the Hendon sewage treatment works site over a period of no less than 3 months. (Condition 8 of the Hendon Discharge permit) NWL measured the flows from the works instead.
The Inspector in the 2001 inquiry indicated it was feasible to measure the flows arriving at the works, which had to be measured.
I suggest that NWL have failed to comply with this condition as the lack of capacity at the Hendon Sewage Treatment Works would be exposed.
When asked “when was the 95 metre sewer connection was made between manhole 6702 and manhole 5610?. ( Permit 245/1207)” the local senior NWL manager replied “I don’t know”.
This suggests that NWL lacked oversight when they made a new connection without applying for a variation in the discharge permit. They did not apparently inform the regulator of this new connection, despite the permit having specific conditions identifying those CSOs that were permitted to discharge into the storm interceptor tunnel.
Event Duration Monitors
I wish to draw your attention to the possibly incorrect EDM Environmental Information provided by the Environment Agency ref 189839 (2020)
The information about the Hendon STW was provided as follows:
From 1st April 2017 to 31 March 2018 the total storm duration events of Screened Storm/ Emergency to Sea amounted to 519 hours and 40 mins
From 1st April 2018 to 31 March 2019 the total storm duration events of Screened Storm/ Emergency to Sea amounted to 351 hours and 11 mins
From 1st April 2019 to 31 March 2020 the total storm duration events of Screened Storm/ Emergency to Sea amounted to 15 hours and 52 minutes.
I queried the veracity of this data as follows:
1) Can you assure me that the data in the Table 1 Storm Overflow Event Monitoring 1st April 2019 to 31 March 2020 is both complete and correct ? and
2) Considering that the rainfall for each period (as recorded at Sunderland, Fulwell weather station) was respectively
can you provide me with an explanation why the total storm duration events of Screened Storm/ Emergency to Sea were reduced so significantly for the period 1st April 2019 to 31 March 2020 in comparison with the two preceding years ?
Here are the EA’s initial replies.
1. The data for 1 Apr 2019 to 31 Mar 2020 was provided to us directly by NWL. There is no information available to us that suggests it is not both complete and correct.
2. New Event Duration Monitoring (EDM) has been installed at this site which uses a more accurate EDM signal. The 2019 - 2020 data is the first report using that more accurate data.
I suggest that the ‘more accurate EDM signal’ installation has provided such anomalous data that there has emerged grave doubts on the accuracy of the data supplied by EDMs.
Possible way Forward?
I suggest that the best way forward is to push for a government led independent inquiry into the regional sewage system that is covered by Northumbrian Water Limited. This has to include the views of the local authorities, residents, the water company, the regulator and has to be chaired by an independent suitably qualified sewage engineer/ planning inspector.
We need to determine population numbers for the sewage treatment catchment areas, the condition and flow rates in sewer networks, both foul and combined, the flow rates from Combined Sewer Overflows into water courses and the sea and most importantly the flow rates of sewage to the local sewage treatment works. Such an inquiry will identify any stresses in the system, capacity issues and produce options that will have the local system conform to Urban Waste Water Treatment regulations in that:
The design, construction and maintenance of collecting systems shall be undertaken in accordance with the best technical knowledge not entailing excessive costs, notably regarding:
volume and characteristics of urban waste water,
prevention of leaks,
limitation of pollution of receiving waters due to storm water overflows.
The Whitburn/ Hendon system can be used as a test case to produce best practice for the rest of the country's sewage pollution issues. An objective and transparent inquiry would show that the government is listening to concerns and is willing to hold water companies and regulatory bodies to account. This is our chance to put a system that is failing under the microscope to benefit the whole country.
In terms of timelines - a local independent inquiry could be completed in a matter of weeks as was the case in 2001 - this is as opposed to the EA's idea of completing a 10 year study which kicks the issue into the long grass and allows millions of tonnes of untreated sewage to be discharged into our watercourses and into the North Sea.
This is our chance to use our problems with sewage pollution to be used in a productive way to not only improve the environment of our area but also to produce a template for other areas to follow.
 http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=128650&pageIndex0&doclang=EN&mode=lst&d ir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=419039