Blackdown House, Honiton - East Devon District Council (EDDC) headquarters

Major pipe failures and sewage overflows into the sea have prompted a ‘vote of no confidence’ in South West Water (SWW) by East Devon District Council (EDDC).

The authority passed the motion, with 46 votes for and two abstentions, at its full council meeting yesterday (Wednesday, February 21).

EDDC voiced its grave concern with the Exmouth sewage network, following a series of major pipe failures in December 2023.

The repair works and tanker movements that followed then caused extensive disruption to residents.

The authority announced it was ‘alarmed’ SWW failed to notify EDDC of sewage overflows in Exmouth over the same period, leading to reports of people and pets falling ill from exposure to untreated human waste during sea swimming.

During the meeting, EDDC agreed for the leader, Councillor Paul Arnott, to write publicly to SWW’s chief executive to request:

  •  SWW commits to involving EDDC in discussions with town and parish councils regarding ongoing and upcoming works.
  • To proactively monitor and respond to ongoing developments and issues in a joint partnership between SWW, EDDC officers, and cabinet members.
  • Proactively and transparently engage with EDDC’s planning team to ensure the emerging Local Plan can shape new developments without exacerbating existing issues with storm overflows and capacity constraints.
  • Work with EDDC planning officers to help manage pressures caused by new developments and respond to community concerns, responding to requests for consultation and providing relevant data as well as accepting invitations to planning committee meetings to discuss applications whenever possible, and taking other relevant steps.
  • Commit to actively engaging with EDDC beach safety officer and EDDC’s environmental health team to proactively advise of overflows so the authority can act in the interest of public safety.

During the meeting, it was agreed that the leader would copy correspondence to the local MPs to encourage them to support its efforts to engage South West Water and to lobby the government to:

  • Revisit weak legislation allowing water companies until 2038 to reduce phosphate pollution in rivers from sewage overflows by only 80 per cent, with a view to requiring more immediate action in the short and mid-term to reduce storm overflows and ameliorate capacity issues.
  • Designate South West Water and other water authorities as a statutory consultee on all major planning applications and require them to provide legally-binding assurances regarding any infrastructural works they indicate will be occurring. 
  • Resist a request by South West Water to raise bills by over 20 per cent by 2030, before inflationary increases, until demonstrable action on sewage spills has been taken to reduce spills towards South West Water’s own 2025 targets. 
  • Restore Environment Agency funding to 2009/10 real-terms levels and properly fund other environmental regulators to ensure that polluting activities are fully and robustly monitored, investigated, and where necessary enforcement action taken.