Stormwater project meets first major challenge
Water quality has finally shown some signs of improvement off Brighton's beaches, following the completion of what is claimed to be Europe's largest stormwater storage tunnel by Southern Water. Peter Minting reports.
Southern Water’s giant stormwater storage tunnel at Brighton and Hove has
been hailed as a success by the Environment Agency.
Richard Hammond, environmental planning officer with the EA told WWT: “We
would have expected serious pollution problems with the old system this
summer. Instead, Hove beach met guideline standards under the EC Bathing
Water Directive and Brighton beach stayed within the mandatory limits.”
The tunnel, designed by Hyder Consulting, took the contractors five years to
complete and at a price of over £40 million dramatically exceeded the
original estimate of £30 million. It is now said to be performing a valuable
Four primary dropshafts, along with a number of smaller shafts, now take the
storm overflow from Victorian interceptor sewers at Hove Street, Medina
Terrace, Norfolk Street and Grand Junction Road.
Previously, this waste poured straight into the sea, causing a serious
pollution hazard along a built-up area of coast popular with bathers.
Mr Hammond of the EA said: “Up until now, Southwick beach in Shoreham, west
of Brighton, has failed bathing water quality standards every year.”
Up to 132,000m3 of overflowing waste water from the town¹s sewers and drains
can be stored in the tunnel during heavy rain.
Once the storm waters subside, the wastewater is pumped from the eastern end
of the tunnel at Black Rock to Portabello sewage treatment works. Here it
is subjected to primary screening for sewage before discharge to sea.
However, there is still plenty of room for improvement, according to Mr
Hammond: “The long sea outfall does offer some protection, but secondary
treatment would make the system much more robust.” He pointed out that
although EA samples taken on a weekly basis show water to be safe inside the
200m zone, water further out could conceivably still be of a lower
Taking this and other results into account, local pressure groups are
continuing to fight for secondary treatment.
Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) director Andrew Coleman said: “Despite the
tunnel, tests carried out by Brighton and Hove Council, which carries out
monitoring independently from the EA, show that water quality failed
microbiological standards on several occasions this year.”
Southern Water blamed four positive results for faecal coliforms in the
summer of 1998 on rogue builders connecting sewer pipes to surface drains,
which pour directly onto the beach.
In Southern Water’s defence, spokesman Graham Amy said: “It is inevitable
that other sources of pollution will become apparent after the building of
such a large project. If we find out who is responsible for this leak, we
will certainly be asking the council to take action.”
Commenting on the Council’s results, Mr Hammond of the EA spoke out in
support of the utility: “We are designated as the only competent authority
to assess beach standards. Having more than one monitoring scheme can cause
unnecessary confusion. On the whole, we are pleased with the progress
Southern Water is making in the area.”
He added “Under the EC Water Directive, secondary treatment facilities
should be installed for all coastal discharges by the year 2000.”
To get approval for a secondary treatment stage at Portabello STW, Southern
Water will still need to convince Sussex County Council that the development
will not damage the surrounding Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The Council has already rejected Southern Water¹s first proposals for a new
treatment platform back in July. Reasons given included the large scale of
the installation, which the County Council said Œcould affect the local
geology’ and Œcontribute to the problem of heavy traffic’ in the Telscombe
Mike Elrick, of Southern Water’s technology group, said: “We are planning to
appeal against this decision. If the appeal is not successful by January
1999, we will be forced to consider siting the installation elsewhere.”
For the moment, Mr Coleman of SAS remains unimpressed with Southern Water’s
efforts: “I would be extremely surprised if Southern Water got their
application through on time to meet the 2000 deadline, as the tunnel itself
was over three years late.”
Mr Hammond said that discharge consent procedures were, at least, well under
way: “Southern Water’s application has just arrived on my desk. I am now in
a position to issue a licence with the requirement for secondary
However, he admitted that this alone would not be enough to guarantee
secondary treatment by the year 2000.
“If its planning applications are repeatedly turned down, Southern will be
entitled to apply for a special derogation under Section 8.1 of the UWWTD
(1991), to delay the installation of secondary treatment further.”
© Faversham House Ltd 2023 edie news articles may be copied or forwarded for individual use only. No other reproduction or distribution is permitted without prior written consent.