The boss of Southern Water said if he could fix the problems with the sewer network overnight he would, but warned in reality it will take years.

Lawrence Gosden took over the helm of the troubled company in 2022, just after it had received the biggest fine ever issued for dumping sewage into the sea.

Mr Gosden, who studied at the University of Brighton, said turning Southern Water around after the fine is “almost personal”.

“I started my career at Southern when I was a graduate and then went into consultancy at other companies after that,” said the chief executive officer.

“I’d seen the company go through a really difficult period so the opportunity to be able to come back into the company that helped me get onto an engineering career is completion of the cycle for me.

“I’m personally committed to getting this company back on track.”

For the first six months of his time in charge, Mr Gosden says he prioritised listening to his customers to find out what needs to happen.

Overwhelmingly, people told him they want to see the sewers brought up to a modern standard to stop waste bubbling up through drains and flowing into the sea.

“People are angry about this and I do understand it. I really understand the pressure for change,” he said.

“If I could change it today and fix it, by goodness I would. The whole position is totally unacceptable.

“I want to protect the natural environment. I've come into this job to change the company and also to put it on a path to be able to deal with overflows.

“But I think the point that I'm maybe not making clearly enough is just the scale of the infrastructure. This is not an overnight fix.”

Southern Water is investing £700 million every five years in replumbing its entire sewer infrastructure, which will take until 2050.

In the short term, each home will be given a high tech water butt which slows the rate at which rainwater enters the sewers to prevent them from becoming overwhelmed.

When the sewers become overwhelmed it can cause waste to come back up through drains and into roads and can also lead to spills into the sea.

“We could have started to attack this by just building big concrete tanks, but in ten years’ time we'll be needing to build a bigger concrete tank. It's not sustainable,” said Mr Gosden.

“So we've been pretty innovative in using these sort of water butts to solve roof run-off and then working with local authorities to replumb road drainage so that it goes naturally into the environment and into rivers rather than into sewer pipes where it overflows.”

But the water butt rollout is not due to begin until 2026 and Southern Water is still waiting for the green light from the government to begin replacing its sewers as the plans are still being considered.

For now, the practice of releasing storm water into rivers and the sea, which contains around five per cent sewage, into the sea, will not stop, although he said the number of outfalls is steadily reducing.

READ MORE: People warned not to swim after 11-hour sewage release in Shoreham

Would Mr Gosden himself take a dip in the water?

“I'm a scuba diver and have been for a long time. I scrubbed off Brighton and Hove when sewage literally was going in the sea day in, day out and we knew where not to scuba dive,” he said.

“Ninety five per cent of wastewater is fully captured and treated now. The last five per cent is what goes through the overflows. So I’m confident going in the sea.”