United Utilities is considering New Brighton for a pilot project as part of wider efforts to tackle sewage pollution in the River Mersey.
The town sits at the mouth of the Mersey and made headlines in 2023 following reports the town could be one of the worst sewage polluted beaches in England due to its location near the river.
Data from water company United Utilities outflow pipes in 2022 show sewage was pumped into the River Mersey for nearly 25,000 hours, the equivalent of nearly three years or 15 spills a day.
Taking into account all of the tributaries feeding into the river, this comes to more than 100,000 hours in total in 2022 according to the Rivers Trust. This is the equivalent of nearly 11 and a half years of sewage discharge in just a single year.
United Utilities says sewage spills happen to prevent sewage backing up into people’s houses during periods of heavy rainfall. 54% of sewers in the north-west are combined meaning rainwater and sewage mix risking the system overflowing.
The company is now engaging with swimming and community groups across the seaside resort to look at ways it can improve water quality in the area and reduce the amount of water going into sewers. This is after its CEO Louise Beardmore was contacted by community groups demanding action be taken.
Recently the company announced a £13.7bn investment plan across the whole of the North West with £251m earmarked specifically for Merseyside. It wants to see fewer than 10 spills a year from each pipe by 2050. In Wirral, the average was 36 in 2022.
However, to help pay for this, it is expected people’s bills will rise by £110 over the next five years.
This business plan from 2025 to 2030 is still subject to approval by Ofwat, the water company regulator and it is after this, the company will look at project proposals and the finances needed for each project.
One way United Utilities is hoping to do this is looking at reusing rainwater and slowing down how quickly it runs off hard surfaces like roads and concrete in places like New Brighton. This could involve water butts collecting water, reusing rainwater, and green drainage systems with plants that soak it up.
On 3 November, United Utilities held meetings with swimming groups, the New Brighton Coastal Community group, Rockpoint Leisure CEO Dan Davies, and New Brighton councillor Sue Powell-Wilde. This is the latest in several over recent weeks.
Flooding issues around Victoria Road, Seabank Road, and on the seafront were raised as well as problems in Vale Park. United Utilities said they’ll now assess the drainage needs and opportunities in the town and address the negative publicity sewage spills bring.
Mark Booth, United Utilities’ Merseyside engagement lead said, “It’s for us to get the message out, that we are trying to get the sewage water out of the system. It rains a lot. It rains more now because of climate change but we left with the legacy of a Victorian sewage system.”
When asked why New Brighton could be a good place to start, he said, “It’s a resort, the proximity to Liverpool and it does have some challenges and we want to make sure we put the record straight.
“It may take a bit of time. We are spending customers’ money so we need to make sure we are spending customers’ money in the right way.”
Sean Martin from the New Brighton coastal community said he’s been reassured by the meetings, adding, “We had all this bad publicity and that impacts on attracting people to the area and discourages the swimmers from coming down.”
He continued, “It’s a good place to start because it’s a resort. The more improvements we make to the area, the more people will visit.”
Swimmers in the Mersey also want to know what they’re swimming in and United Utilities has taken a sample of the water in New Brighton’s marine lake to assess the water quality there.
Ian Clayton from the Friends of New Brighton’s Marine Lake said, “It was very positive and it is quite encouraging. They are fairly open and they gave us detailed answers.”
He said, “Over time we have got more reassured that what we are swimming in New Brighton is pretty clean,” but added: “In terms of what is going in the Mersey, in a lot of ways it’s a very complicated picture.”
United Utilities said they were also looking to work with authorities like the Liverpool City Region as well as Wirral Council to improve issues in the area.
Cllr Powell-Wilde said, “There definitely has to be a collaboration but I definitely would like to see no impact on our residents and businesses. If we can roll this out across our borough, it has got to be a good thing for the environment. It’s something we should push through.”
United Utilities are hosting an online event at 11.30am on 10 November where people will be able to ask questions. A link can be found here
Image: Victoria Road, New Brighton