Agenda item

Issues and Challenges

The Committee will hear from Plymouth City Council officers, the Environment Agency, South West Water and Tamar Catchment.


Councillor Briars-Delve (Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change) welcomed everyone to the Committee, introduced the item and highlighted:


a)    Thanks to everyone involved in the ongoing major incident in Keyham due to an unexploded WW2 bomb that had been discovered;

b)    The Corporate Plan included a vision for the waterfront;

c)    The waterfront was one of the cities greatest assets that supported economic prosperity, health and wellbeing;

d)    Plymouth’s waterfront had been designated the first National Marine Park in the UK;

e)    Supporting people to engage with the water, and public needed to be assured of a clean environment;

f)     Wildlife within Plymouth Sound needed clean water to thrive;

g)    Use of storm overflows were of concern;

h)    Partners had worked hard together to create a third bathing area in Plymouth at Firestone Bay;

i)     No singular, easy or cheap fix, whilst facing the climate change impact of increased rainfall;

j)     A collaborative, creative and innovative solution was needed.


Kat Deeney (Head of Environmental Planning) introduced Plymouth City Council’s role in relation to Water Quality and highlighted:


k)    Plymouth City Council had a role in provision of signage on water quality and short term pollution advice;

l)     Strong partnership working with organisations on nature delivery, shell fisheries, highways and flood risk;

m)  Challenges included the sewage network, urban and agricultural run-off, microplastics, changing weather patterns, changing culture in relation to ‘bathing season’, behaviours, complexity of solutions;

n)    Every household could be part of the solution.


Bruce Newport (Environment Agency) introduced the Environment Agency’s role in relation to Water Quality and highlighted:


o)    All 3 of Plymouth’s bathing waters were classified as excellent, the highest rating, without any discounting;

p)    The Environment Agency advised the Council when water quality was going to be impacted and signs could be put up;

q)    Samples had continued through the winter at Firestone Bay to see if winter sampling was feasible and to determine the winter water quality, which was excellent;

r)    Discharges, treated by Plymouth City Council, into the River Plym from Chelson Meadow landfill continued after its closure and would for some time, but did not impact bathing waters;

s)     Devonport Dockyard discharges had been eliminated;

t)     Ammonia levels were increased due to agricultural activity;

u)    Industrial areas were monitored;

v)    More employees across the country to increasing monitoring of water companies;

w)   Not all storm overflows had the same impact on Plymouth Waterfront.

Frank Newell (Environment Agency) added:


x)    Infilled creeks meant that a lot of the water drainage within the city was underground and was difficult and expensive to map;

y)    Integrated urban drainage modelling allowed them to understand what improvements could be made;

z)    Expected 30% increase in peak rainfall events over next 60 years, 50% over 100 years;

aa)  Sea levels were expected to rise 1.5m over 100 years;

bb)Significant investment was being made into water storage in parkland at Trefusis Park;

cc)  Work in the city centre was aimed at separating surface water into a new system, but this was an expensive solution.

Alan Burrows (South West Water) and Mark Wolsford (South West Water) introduced South West Water’s role and highlighted:


dd)Strong partnerships in Plymouth;

ee)Strategy called Waterfit up to 2025 and then to 2030, aimed at nurturing healthy rivers and seas and aiming to reduce the impact on rivers by 1/3 by 2025 and to reduce operation of storm overflows;

ff)    Changes in people using the water had led to a demand from the public expecting good water quality all year round;

gg)  Significant progress had been made in reducing pollution incidents since 2020, with none serious incidents in 2021, and one in 2022 and none in 2023 and only 13 minor incidents since 2020;

hh)South West Water (SWW) had installed event duration monitors on all storm overflows ahead of the government target, and the information was available to regulators, and members of the public;

ii)    A storm overflow action plan had been submitted to the Secretary of State, and SWW were waiting to be able to publish this;

jj)    SWW expected to complete their plan by 2040, the only company in England and Wales to set this target (Government’s target was 2050);

kk)126 overflows in the Plymouth region, 54 were meeting standards at the time of the meeting, and did not require investment;

ll)       A lot of what happened in the network could be as a result of customer behaviour and putting items into the system that should not be there such as wet wipes and sanitary products;

mm) Working with ECAS (Environment Compliance Experts) looking at sewer misuse from food establishments to stop grease, oils and fats entering into the system;

nn)    Green and blue systems were looked at as a priority as they were more sustainable;

oo)    Focus on storm overflows and pollution, with significant investment from 2025-2030 as the majority of the coast was bathing water and/or shellfish water;

pp)    Plan to invest just over £3 billion from 2025-2040 in storm overflows, with £750 million funded from customer bills;


qq)There were four categories of pollution impact levels, set out by the Environment Agency (EA).


Laurence Couldrick (Tamar Catchment Partnership) added the following:

rr)  A graphic was shown demonstrating the impact of farming on water quality from overgrazing, growing crops close to the river, high risk crops, inadequate infrastructure, non-separation of pollutants, meaning they wash into the river system: WRT_Good_Farm_Bad_Farm_Logo_small-scaled.jpg (2560×1805);

ss)   Agriculture was one of the biggest pollutants of the rivers local to Plymouth, impacting Water quality and resilience;

tt)   Tamar Catchment Partnership (TCP) aimed to build and promote nature based solutions, through incentives with farmers as well as regulation and enforcement;

uu)Soil health needed to be achieved;

vv)  TCP aimed to build resilience in communities and the catchments.


In response to questions, the following was discussed:

ww) Data was taken from the Met Office which predicted the future impacts of climate change on the weather, which was used by SWW to assess the future impacts on the sewage/water systems and the investment plan would be updated every 5 years using this data;

xx)11 named storms came over England in 2023, when the average had been 3 or 4 previously;

yy)  Balance of affordability and size against climate change forecasting;

zz)       Customer bills and dividends in relation to the SWW investment plan;

aaa)    1.2 million water customers and 900,000 waste customers of SWW;

bbb)   At the end of May 2024 a full report would be produced on Firestone Bay by the Environment Agency;

ccc)    Real time data was available on storm overflows;

ddd)   Water Quality was commensurate with animal welfare;

eee)    Water for animals in farming;

fff)       Water net gain was a project helping farmers to create lakes and ponds to store storm run off for their animals;

ggg)    0 days were discounted in Plymouth in 2023 for water quality, but some days information on pollutants allowed people to decide if they wanted to enter the water;

hhh)   Approximately only 6 or 7 poor warnings for water quality were given in West Hoe each year;

iii)         There were four categories of pollution that the Environmental Agency regulated water companies on;

jjj)        Issues relating to Ernesettle Creek;

kkk)    Major developments in the Joint Local Plan had a requirement to deliver sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS);

lll)        The city centre developments included sustainable urban drainage systems to separate run off from sewage;

mmm)  Misconnections from homes;

nnn)   Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act (2010) had not yet been enacted, but the Government planned on enacting it within 12 months, which would make guidance on SUDS in new developments more clear;

ooo)     Promotional material to make residents and companies more aware of what couldn’t/shouldn’t be put into the drainage system;

ppp)      Educating communities of impacts of actions such as concreting over driveways.


Supporting documents: