Last week, the people of Longparish and Chilbolton were alarmed to see Southern Water setting up overland pipes and pumps, preparing to dump wastewater from overflowing sewers directly into the River Test.

Groundwater levels are currently high following a sustained period of unusually high rainfall. Tankers had been used to ease the pressure on the system but last week the creaking sewage infrastructure finally looked as if it was going to require emergency pumping.

After being contacted by several concerned residents, I headed to Longparish and Chilbolton to investigate. As I moved between the villages, I was heartened to see the united community spirit of those that live near and work on the River Test.

Groups were gathering at spots where dumping was rumoured to be starting and, dotted along the river, riverkeepers kept watch over their patch in case the water company should turn up to start their environmental vandalism.

Our River Test is one of only 200 chalk streams in the world and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is a rare and precious natural gift at the heart of our community which we rightly cherish and want to protect.

Faced with overwhelming opposition from residents, riverkeepers and politicians and with journalists from both local and national outlets gathering, Southern Water backed down and decided not to proceed with the pumping.

Alex Saunders, Head of Wastewater Networks at Southern Water, is reported saying: “We’ve listened to local councillors and other stakeholders and will not be installing over pumping.”

The quote implies that Southern Water intended to pump wastewater into the Test, until the pressure from the people forced them to reconsider. Compare this to a letter from Lawrence Gosden, the CEO of Southern Water, to Longparish Parish Council, which is published on the council's website, that states: “The team set up the equipment as part of testing our contingent readiness for an extreme emergency; however, it was a mistake to do so.”

This reads as if the setting up of equipment was little more than a training exercise and there was never any intention to pump into the Test. Perhaps he should talk to his Head of Wastewater Networks.

In his letter, Lawernce Gosden also states: “You have my personal assurance that we will not be pumping into the River Test.” Well, Mr Gosden, we will hold you to your word, now and in the future.


Geoff Cooper  

Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Romsey and Southampton North