Southern Water's boss has said sorry for not taking action sooner to address sewage spills - and will not be taking a bonus.

England’s nine water and sewage companies have issued a joint apology after raw sewage was dumped into rivers and seas 825 times a day on average last year.

Water UK, the industry body which represents the nation’s water firms, announced plans to invest an additional £10 billion in a new National Overflows Plan to modernise England’s ageing sewer network.

Lawrence Gosden, chief executive of Southern Water, also apologised for not addressing the situation with greater urgency and said he would not take any bonus for his first year in the job.


He said: “I am completely supportive of the Water UK announcement today, committing to system-wide action and investment of £10 billion on storm overflows and apologise that action was not taken sooner on sewage spills in the South East.

“At Southern Water, we’re already working to reduce the number of storm overflows, investing significant money to build bigger infrastructure and redesign a legacy Victorian sewer system as well as using innovative technology and natural solutions.

“Our board is sensitive to customers' concerns on remuneration and has developed pay and bonus policies that reflect our environmental and customer service performance as well as the challenges of our turnaround.

“In my first year as CEO I will not be taking any bonus because we have clearly not met the wider expectations of our customers.”

The Argus: Southern Water CEO Lawrence GosdenSouthern Water CEO Lawrence Gosden (Image: Southern Water)

Southern Water will reveal further detail about plans to address sewage spills next month.

Public could end up paying for upgrades for 'maybe up to 100 years'

Ruth Kelly, chairwoman of Water UK, said the public would have to pay towards upgrading storm overflows for up to a century.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, she said: “Over time, the way the system works is that there will be modest upward pressure on customer bills over the full lifetime of the asset so over 50 years or perhaps even longer, maybe up to 100 years, customers do contribute.

“This is an investment programme that will go on for years. We literally want to do this as fast as physically possible.”

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Her comments provoked uproar from musician and clean river campaigner Feargal Sharkey, who criticised water companies for making customers pay “a second time”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “We should have an apology for the suggestion they are going to put bills up by £10 billion for their incompetence and their greed.

“This is nothing to celebrate whatsoever. What they should be saying is ‘we messed this up, we’re terribly sorry, we’re going to compensate you all’. That we could all get behind.”

The Argus: England's water companies have pledged to invest an extra £10 billion to upgrade the nation's sewer networkEngland's water companies have pledged to invest an extra £10 billion to upgrade the nation's sewer network

Water minister Rebecca Pow said the apology was “not before time”, adding: “The government has put the strictest targets ever on water companies to reduce sewage pollution and demanded that water companies deliver their largest ever infrastructure investment - £56 billion.

“I am pleased that they are now taking action to deliver on this but there is still a great deal more to do.”