Burst pipes leaking untreated sewage in Exmouth prompts calls to the Government to stop ‘forcing’ more new homes on East Devon

Untreated sewage from burst pipes in Exmouth has prompted calls to the Government to stop forcing scores of new builds in parts of East Devon amid fears of more leaks from on overloaded infrastructure.

It is “plain stupid” for the Government to require more houses to be built in East Devon when the sewage system has “already failed”, writes local democracy reporter Will Goddard.

That’s the belief of Councillor Geoff Jung after recent sewage pipe bursts in Exmouth which have led to tankers being used to transport waste through the town and the Environment Agency advising against swimming in the sea.

Cllr Jung (Lib Dem, Woodbury and Lympstone) recently told the district council’s strategic planning committee that these incidents “clearly demonstrate systematic ongoing failures both from South West Water and the Environment Agency”.

He said: “In Exmouth since 11 December, the water firm has been dealing with various major pipe bursts in the town, which has led to untreated sewage being taken from Phear Park by a convoy of trucks to Maer Road’s sewage pumping station and only in the last few days directly to Maer Lane sewage works.

“Failures have occurred predominantly between the pumping station in Phear Park and Maer Lane sewage works, where a temporary overground bypass has been hastily constructed but only yesterday operational.

“It is clear from what we see locally that despite assurances, the increasing sewage capacity together with the increased surface water from climate change events show that the present sewage infrastructure is failing.”

He continued: “By [the Government]forcing us to build more housing we are actually increasing the number of connections, thus increasing capacity to an already failed system. That’s plain stupid.”

Cllr Brian Bailey (Conservative, Exmouth Littleham) went further, calling for an embargo on allowing new homes to be built in certain areas.

He said: “[South West Water] are strangers to the truth and what they say to us. I think that’s the politest way of putting it.

“I would like to propose that we have a building embargo, and we can do it. We’re the authority.

“No more building in and around Exmouth or Woodbury or Lympstone or Topsham because the sewage system is not up to it. Otherwise, we’re going to let more and more houses in and it’s going to get worse.”

A spokesperson for South West Water said: “We would like to thank local residents for their continued patience whilst essential repair works in Exmouth are carried out and we are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.

“We have successfully finished installing the temporary pipe which will divert flows around the damaged section of sewer, so we can now turn our attention to making a full repair. This progress means we no longer need to use tankers.”

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “We take all pollution incidents extremely seriously and we are currently investigating the burst pipe that was initially reported to the Environment Agency on 30 December 2023. South West Water has now resolved the issue and their pumping station is back in operation.

“In response to the pollution, we issued advice against bathing via our Swimfo webpage and through social media and informed East Devon District Council. During the incident, we worked closely with the water company to minimise the impact on the environment.

“We are continuing to investigate and will consider taking appropriate enforcement action when we have all the information required. The Environment Agency is urging SWW to deliver on its promised investment in Exmouth to reduce sewage spills.”

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