Wastewater Boycott in Kent

Margate Wastewater Pumping Station – photo from Southern Water Co., used with permission

Residents Refuse to Pay Southern Water for Wastewater Service

Some residents of Faversham and North Thanet have refused to pay Southern Water for the wastewater services listed in their water bills. It was Kent resident Bob Geldof who encouraged them to do this. At a meeting last November he drew attention to the “vile harm” of sewage pollution on beaches.

The response of Southern Water has been, in a few cases, to refund an amount to a few of their customers. However the Press Release from Southern Water about these refunds stresses that this is in accord with a long-standing practice to assist struggling customers:

“We support customers who are going through tough times, including payment holidays, special tariffs, debt write-offs, bill reductions and grants for household items. We also offer support and extra help for those living with long-term illness, disability, the elderly, and even new parents or parents with young children.

Southern Water currently provides over 126 000 customers with some form of financial assistance: an increase of 21 000 since the start of the pandemic. Last year we provided over £12.5 million worth of support.

This approach prevents customers from entering bill collection cycles and long-term damage to their credit ratings which would only make things worse for a struggling family.

Ultimately, it is the bills customers pay which enable us not only to carry on providing water at the turn of a tap and taking wastewater away but to invest to protect the environment and boost local economies.”

Donna Howden, Head of Customer Services, Southern Water Company

Are the Water Companies Investing Enough in Infrastructure?

“Between 2020 and 2025 we’re putting £2 billion into our networks and equipment – helped by a contribution of fresh capital from a new majority shareholder; but to sustain the investments needed to cope with a growing population and ageing assets, we need to charge in line with Ofwat’s determination. In the coming year the average bill will fall in actual as well as real terms despite greater investment.”

Details About East Kent Water Projects

Thanet Coast

  • Work on the second phase of the resilience scheme at Margate and Broadstairs WPSs began in 2020. It will be complete by 2025. Anticipated investment for Phase 2 of circa £6.6m.
  • The total cost to date of improvements works at Margate WPS, Broadstairs WPS and Weatherlees Hill WTW is £11.7m.

Canterbury Coast

  • Improvement works are underway on site which will see the installation of a new short sea outfall alongside upgrades to the pumping and control systems. These will be complete by 2024 – anticipated investment of £20 million. Brook Road CSO will soon be taken out of use with accompanying remedial works to the Brook.
  • Total investment during 2020-2025 for the Swalecliffe catchment is £25.8m 


  • Faversham WTW serves a population of around 40 000. Flows are conveyed to site via three pumping stations – Abbeyfield, Lady Dane and Boughton.
  • Over the next four years we will be investing £2 million to improve capacity, efficiency and reduce the number of CSO releases into Faversham Creek. Existing storm tanks are being refurbished to extend their asset life and increase the capacity of stormwater storage on site by bringing redundant tanks back into service.
  • Automated clearing systems in all storm water tanks are also being installed to ensure that any solid matter or sludge is removed to prevent odour and reduce the potential for this to be carried into any storm water discharges to the environment. Completion is expected by the end of 2023.

To Cope with Storm Water

Southern Water has set up task teams to tackle this storm water problem in the worst performing parts of their extensive system. Within Kent, it will concentrate on Margate, Deal and Swalecliffe. This is part of a £2bn investment to reduce by 80% the storm water problem by the year 2030 and the sewage outflow by 2025. They also have long term plans for the next 25 years to manage stormwater and drainage.

The information about the Margate Wastewater treatment helps us gauge the size of the problem

Infographic from Southern Water Co. used with permission

Even though the tank is the size of 10 double-decker buses it can fill up in 10 minutes, necessitating the outflow of water not yet fully screened for faeces. There is also the problem of householders blocking the sewerage with cooking oil, food scraps, wet wipes and nappies. The cleaning process for Margate collects about two skip-loads of this every week.

Improvements by Southern Water

Further information about what the upgrade since 2012 consisted of is obtainable from the Chief Engineer here , with headings that include “inlet penstock controlinlet screw augerscrew pumpinlet screensinlet maceratortransfer pumps… surge vesselsair valves… and a new item: Washpactors. There is also now improved staffing and storage of spares on site. 

In other words, the fines which have been imposed since the 2012 incident have caused Southern Water to improve Kent’s resilience in the face of a growing storm-water problem.

It Helps If the Public Is Aware

But I do not think Bob Geldof’s hot-headed support for customers’ not paying part of their water bills is going to make any difference to the amount that Southern Water can invest in infrastructure improvements or even the pace at which the work can be done.

But the public becoming more aware of storm water risks is going to help: both householders and local governments need to be partners in lessening the risks.