Letter to Editor: How will we keep Harlow from sewage and pollution?

Politics / Sun 28th Nov 2021 at 10:21am


It wasn’t until The Great Stink of 1858 literally hit Parliamentarians sitting in the chamber that real action was taken to combat pollution in The Thames.

Parliament were behind developments, slow to act, apparently Liverpool City father’s had already begun to tackle drainage issues there.

When the new Super Sewer was announced for London in recent years one would have naturally assumed this would provide an upgrade and prevent sewage from entering the river entirely. 

It’s disturbing to read this is far from the case. https://www.mylondon.news/news/london-super-sewer-see-millions-22237026

Even when completed 2.5 million tons of sewage will be discharged into the river annually. How can Parliament not legislate to solve these problems?

The cause of these problems is that fundamentally the system is not fit for purpose.

London runs on a combined surface water and sewage system, just like Harlow and most of the country.

Surface water was not such a problem in 1858. 

Essentially surface water, industrial drainage and sewage systems  each have their toxic and dangerous pollutants and new engineering and science need to be applied to remove pollutants before the water is returned to the environment. 

This affects Harlow. We have a combined system that is already failing and the situation will be made worse by HGGT Gilston and the Eastern Crossing (should it be built ).

HGGT Gilston intend to separate surface water and sewage systems, which is good, but this is entirely negated by the fact it’s all, surface water and sewage being drained into the same flood plain and trunk sewer as the Harlow system. 

The impact on the ecology of the Stort river valley would be much reduced if the eastern crossing were not built and the central crossing not expanded (it could be modified).

Harlow will experience more flooding. HGGT needs to have bigger ponds and greater attenuation measures. The flood plains need to be expanded by at least 10% to achieve effective flood control and to improve biodiversity.

HGGT Gilston actually needs it’s own water and sewage treatment works. Friends of Latton Island have recently received letters from those who farm down the valley. 

They have seen damage to livestock and crops worryingly increase over the last 20 years due to pollution and despite past and future promises from Thames Water about improvements are extremely concerned about the developing situation. 

If Thames Water projects here are similar to the ‘solution ‘ offered by the Super Sewer,  then the outlook for the farmers and Harlow are bleak. As seen by the chemical and sewage pollution in Canon’s Brook, the Stort Valley river, canal and flood plain and by the flooding down the length of the valley and homes in Harlow the old Victorian combined system needs to be re engineered to 21st Century needs, especially with additional developments like those proposed at Hatfield Heath adding to the load. 

There are ultra green solutions for Harlow that HGGT development could take onboard by “going back to the drawing board ” to make development here a UK leading ultra green project. 

Our town council and MP need to act on behalf of Harlow to protect the residents, the River Valley and town from pollution from traffic, surface water, industrial sites and sewage discharges when these issues come to planning.

They also need to resist the greed of property developers and the proposal to turn Harlow into a mini city extension of London for those cashing in and moving out of the city. It would be ecologically a further levelling down, the kind of thinking that’s propelling climate change. 

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9 Comments for Letter to Editor: How will we keep Harlow from sewage and pollution?:

Richard Adams
2021-11-28 17:43:02

I would agree with the author of the letter that HGGT need to ensure that all surface water arising from any new development is dealt with properly in a way that does not increase or even reduce the risk of flooding for existing areas. The Environment Agency has strict rules as to how this should be achieved and I am sure that they will ensure the developers comply. If done properly the creation of attenuating ponds and wetlands will increase biodiversity and carbon capture. As for sewage all of the new town is built on a separate system so the implication that the town is polluting the river Stortford is incorrect. All Harlow sewage is dealt with at Rye Meads any water flowing into the Stort from Rye Mead is of the highest quality. Any new developments will have separate sewage and surface water systems. Again the Environment agency will ensure the highest standards apply.

Pauline S
2021-11-29 11:51:51

[Why does the letter writer fail to provide a name?] I am inclined to agree 80%. However, Thames Water have not got the best reputation regarding sewage where it should not be, and the Environment Agency are not always 'on the ball' - so they have to be prompted by the public. It is right that this issue for the Stort valley is raised.

2021-11-30 18:08:44

Richard how is it that raw sewage is regularly discharged into the River Valley in Harlow then?See filmed evidence on line. Answer the Harlow system is a combined surface water and sewage system. During more frequent periods of heavy rainfall the sewer system is overwhelmed and discharges into Harlow River Valley and flooding also happens into Harlow homes, the sewage gets discharged before it ever reaches Rye Meads. See also Rivers Trust interactive map showing where there are discharge outfalls that pollute the River Valley also check with farmers who have reported the problem has got worse over the last 20 years and are very concerned about the increased load hggt will impose. See also planning application from hggt where their own consultants advise that the Thames trunk sewer into which Harlow and future Hggt flow, the extra deep manholes may avoid flooding, this is already happening frequently.

Richard Adams
2021-11-30 19:49:19

Novoman the only point I am trying to make is that the anonymous author of the letter claims that Harlow’s sewers are part of a combined surface water/sewage system. To my knowledge Harlow was designed and built as a separated drainage system and current regulation will require any new development to be built to that same standard. I would not disagree that any additional development will add to the pressure on Rye Mead sewage works but I would like to see arguments based on facts.

2021-12-01 10:16:06

Richard, the facts are there in the public domain: they arent disputed. You can download a map of the Harlow system its combined surface water and sewage. Harlow doesn't have a modern SuDs system. You can look at the reports by consultants in the planning application for hggt that add sewage discharges from septic tanks and oil. Check YH for video taken of sewage discharges taken at Latton Island. Check The Rivers Trust interactive map of sewage discharges into rivers, there's at least one into the Stort. Check video of industrial pollution such as dye in Canon's brook and detergents in the canal. The output from Rye Meads might be ok but this pollution happens before the sewage and surface water gets there. Rye Meads is scheduled for improvements so this indicates a problem there but the problem here is due to the fact that like most rivers, the Stort suffers because the towns have combined surface water, industrial site run off and sewage systems. The new development at Gilston actually intends an improvement because developers are aiming to keep separate the surface water and sewage however if you read their consultants reports and follow the source references the improvement is negated because the attenuation ponds aren't big enough because instead of increasing the whole flood plain to account for both Climate change and the new development by 10% (also to help achieve the 10% improvement in biodiversity as required by the new Environment Bill,) hggt will reduce the flood plain area and substitute an effective barrier using the proposed Eastern crossing to retain flood water. Such a barrier can never function as well as wetland Woods being destroyed nor as well as true flood plain, it will as the Environment Agency has already pointed out, bisect the flood plain making upstream wetter and downstream drier, thus changing the natural ecology of the whole flood plain decimating wildlife habitat. The Eastern crossing will increase flooding events and because the Thames trunk sewer used by the Harlow combined system is already overloaded will have the additional sewage load from hggt and in the future other developments around Harlow like the Epping hggt pfp projects and the developments at Hatfield Heath. I think these are facts enough, your faith in Thames Water is misplaced if they and other water companies were that good then why the well documented massive problem of sewage in rivers and seas around the uk? Why are they failing to deal with agricultural phosphates, nitrates and pharmaceutical pollutants in drinking water, why do we have the worst rivers in Europe? Additionally why are Thames designing a super sewer that still will dump millions of tons of untreated sewage into the Thames?

2021-12-01 13:04:11

The most recent study of flooding in Harlow ranked Harlow as 137th most likely to be flooded out of over 2500 at risk locations in England. The study for Essex CC and now online was in 2013 and although Climate Change was acknowledged the risk were underestimated and recent reports confirm this. Sewage discharges into the environment and especially at times of high rainfall is recognised as a problem. There is no mention of hggt pfp or of any input from Herts or East Herts or the predicted effects of the development of the Gilston Estate nor of the roads nor of the effects of surface water and sewage from hggt nor of the changes in the physical and hydrological levels due to the proposed Eastern Crossing. In short hggt has gone ahead but Harlow plans for sewage and surface water nor the impact of hggt on Harlow have been updated. The information that this report by Capita Symmonds in 2013 is the current most up to date plan for Harlow came from Harlow Council. The plan recommends actions but given the scope of the survey was limited and doesn't include Gilston estate development nor the various developments along the whole Valley and Catchment area, there is the concern that works which may have already been completed wrt this report will most likely be inadequate protection for Harlow residents and the wildlife habitats in the valley. Also, just to add something people seem to have missed but is in a Report published by Friends of Latton Island, serious noise pollution, which has been clearly associated bad mental and physical health and poor wellbeing. Measurements on site have demonstrated that the continuous day noise level in the Valley, currently a tranquil place will increase from an average of 40db (quiet library) to 70 db noisy busy roadway and peaking 85db if the proposd Eastern Crossing is built, there's also the very likely prospect the design of the road cutting into the North side of the Valley, will also project the noise across Harlow.

Richard Adams
2021-12-03 15:52:39

Novoman thank you for pointing to me the information available on the internet particularly the Rivers Trust interactive map of recent sewage discharges. This map shows that in 2020 there were two discharges of treated sewage into the RIver Stort within the Harlow boundary. Both of these were from individual properties not from the general new town. My guess would be that they come from septic tanks or similar in buildings that predate the new town. Although combined surface water and foul water systems are causing problems across the country this is not happening in Harlow because the sewer systems for the new town were designed and built as two separate systems. I know this as a fact because I was involved in the design and construction of some of these systems. I would not deny that pollution is getting into our river system but this is more likely to be caused by deliberate or accidental spills into surface water sewers or illegal connections into the surface sewers. I accept fully your concerns, and I accept many of the points you are making about the effects any new development will have on the local environment. I have lived in the town for nearly 70 years now and I too have concerns about the environmental effect these new developments will have on our town without Harlow having any real say on what is being proposed. I think this something we can both agree on.

2021-12-08 10:46:53

Thank you for the information, I'm puzzled that conflicts with the response from the authorities who say there is no separate surface water drainage system in Harlow like the SuDs system planned for hggt. Whatever the Harlow system is it doesn't work like entirely separate systems, it behaves like a combined system when heavy rain literally flushes sewage into the environment whenever there's heavy rainfall, the surface water causes untreated sewage be discharged into the environment from manholes, we have industrial run off in the form of detergents in the river & canal, there's regular industrial waste in the form of dye polluting Canon's Brook and recently what has been identified as polluting road run off running into the Brooks and river. There's sewage pollution from individual from what the hggt surveys have identified as from septic tanks into Fiddlers Brook and The Rivers Trust identifies a permanent sewage outfall. Also there's a history of flooding within the town and the maps provided by Harlow Council show they are everywhere and that the North of the town remains very vulnerable. Although we may argue about the details I actually think we may be on the same side and would do better to join forces, your inside knowledge would help Save Our Stort. There's vital and important meetings taking place, one this week with the Stort Valley Catchment Committee and planning committees to come. Your experience and knowledge would be helpful because it's difficult to get straight answers. It occurs to me that perhaps your involvement occurred before developments like Church Langley, New Hall and that on the old rugby field and that the original design was compromised? Farmers have written to us to say the problems that have damaged livestock and crops started getting worse about 20 to 25 years ago. An interesting coincidence. Plans of the original design and your input would help us in the campaign to protect the town and the ecology of the Stort Valley, if you haven't yet joined I suggest you join the campaign Friends of Latton Island Facebook Group asap to help.

2021-12-08 11:35:39

To settle the Richard Novoman debate, any system where a separate surface water system when overloaded by heavy rain can flow into th sewage system is these days described as "combined". The effect is to overload the sewage system and discharge untreated sewage into the environment and homes when flooding occurs. This seems to be what happens in Harlow: separate but linked. Newer systems like that proposed by hggt Gilston estate development are intended to have entirely separated surface water and sewage systems to prevent this happening. Surface water attenuation using ponds and flood plain or SuDs systems are meant to stop flooding.

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