THE COMPANY which treats Hampshire’s sewage has been told its performance is unacceptable and that it requires improvement.

Southern Water, which was slapped with a record £126 million penalty package after a ‘shocking’ probe by economic regulator Ofwat uncovered wrongdoing, including what were described as ‘co-ordinated efforts to hide and deceive customers’, has been ordered to sharpen up its act by Environment Agency Chair, Emma Howard Boyd.

“This year we are disappointed by the performance of several companies compared to 2017,” she said. “Southern Water, South West Water and Yorkshire Water all demonstrated this unacceptable level of performance. This is contrary to our expectations and to performance improvements made in preceding years.”

She said there was ‘no getting away from the fact that performance in 2018 was simply unacceptable’.

“With one exception, none of the companies are performing at the level the environment needs. Rather than improving, the performance of most companies has deteriorated, reversing the trend of gradual improvement and serious pollution incidents which damage the local environment, threaten wildlife and in the worst cases put the public at risk, have increased.”

Southern Water was also blasted for failing to demonstrate it has robust enough plans to maintain secure water supplies, rating ‘significantly below target’ for this important metric.

The company’s latest rap sheet included 1.8 serious pollution incidents per 10,000 kilometres of sewer – rated as a performance ‘significantly below target’. It was the third worst company for lower category pollution incidents.

Two weeks ago the company hit the headlines after it was forced to promise a rebate to its two million customers after admitting ‘fixing’ wastewater samples and a series of failures in its sewage treatment sites. Regulator Ofwat said its large-scale investigation found Southern Water had failed to operate a number of wastewater treatment works properly. It says the company did not make the necessary investment, which led to equipment failures and spills of wastewater into the environment.

The watchdog added that Southern Water also manipulated its wastewater sampling process, which led to it misreporting information to Ofwat and avoiding penalties in previous years.

Southern Water has agreed to refund £123 million to customers through their bills and pay a fine of £3 million which means that customers will now receive rebates of £61. However, this repayment will be spread over five years, with a £17 rebate in 2020/21 and £11 in each of the following four years. And the penalty package has been reduced after Southern Water co-operated with the watchdog.The rebate includes £91 million in penalties Southern Water had avoided and a further £32 million of payments as recognition of its serious failures Southern Water is now under criminal investigation by the Environment Agency although it is not known if this is into the company itself, or individual employees.

Its director of risk and compliance, Dr Alison Hoyle, said: “There has been a complete step change in our pollutions team over the past two years and this is reflected in the far higher level of self-reporting as new systems and processes kick in. We know we have more to do. More awareness training for staff means we are now finding and fixing issues sooner and an improvement programme at all of our high impact sites is making good progress. To our disappointment we suffered a small number of more serious pollution incidents during the year. We continue to invest in our sites to increase resilience and we are working closely with the Environment Agency to ensure we learn the correct lessons from these events.

“A major factor in our rating for water supply resilience was the challenge we face in Hampshire following the introduction of new restrictions on water abstraction from the rivers Test and Itchen. Over the next 10 years we plan to spend more than £800 million to make up the deficit created by the new licences.”

We also received a good score – the third highest – for Discharge Permit Compliance, which relates to the quality of treated wastewater leaving our sites. Our delivery of environmental improvement schemes was also strong.”