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Campaign to stop untreated sewage being pumped into the sea @ Whitburn

Steve Lavelle

March 2023

Regular readers will be familiar with Steve Lavelle’s campaign to stop the flow of untreated sewage into sea at Whitburn.

He recently contacted Cllr Tracey Dixon and Cllr Ernest Gibson to call for a public inquiry into the situation. Their response was to ask for details of the permit application and the reasons for a public inquiry.

Read his reply here:

Dear Cllrs Dixon/Gibson

You have requested the details of the Northumbrian Water Limited application I have referred to, along with the reasons for the request for a public inquiry.

This is the information that you have requested:

The Whitburn sewerage system, owned by Northumbrian Water Limited (NWL), serves the Roker, Fulwell, Seaburn, Whitburn, Cleadon and East Boldon areas to the north of the River Wear. The Environment Agency (EA) regulates NWL’s discharge at the Whitburn Long Sea Outfall against an environmental permit (number 245/1207) which contains conditions which must be complied with.

On 13 May 2021, the EA issued a Compliance Assessment Report (CAR) to NWL, regarding a new, illegal connection, made by NWL, to the Whitburn sewerage system. As the new connection was not specifically included in the permit, the EA considered this to be a breach of the conditions and issued a warning to NWL. As part of the EA’s enforcement response, NWL were also required to submit an application to vary the conditions of the permit to request to add the new connection to the permit or alternatively, remove the connection altogether.

Although the illegal connection was constructed in 2015, NWL failed to notify the regulator. This connection now allows foul sewage to be spilled directly into the storm water interceptor tunnel. The storm water interceptor tunnel was constructed with the declared intention to store surface water during heavy rainfall, NWL are now using this illegal connection to direct foul sewage into the stormwater tunnel in dry weather – NOT currently permitted by the Whitburn discharge permit. The stormwater tunnel is now being used to store these extra flows of foul sewage which was never its intended purpose.

The first flush to sea from the tunnel (which takes place each time it rains) is now predominantly foul, untreated sewage. This pollution is destroying the marine environment.

The direction from the EA to NWL to apply to vary the conditions of the permit 245/1207 is now almost 2 years old which means that the EA has failed to enforce the CAR for almost 2 years. If this variation application (which is being made by NWL to the national permitting service) is granted then, overnight, the stormwater tunnel will become a permitted foul sewage storage tunnel. What had been previously illegal will become legally permitted.

The application to add this illegal connection should not be allowed as it will make the discharge permit worthless. The EA have already declared that the application will allow more connections to be made in the future to accommodate the increasing amount of housing developments in Roker, Fulwell, Seaburn, Whitburn, Cleadon and East Boldon. The more connections of foul sewage to the storm water tunnel that the application will facilitate will invariably mean an increase in the volumes of untreated foul sewage discharged out to sea at Whitburn when it rains.

NWL should be made to increase their capacity to store and treat foul sewage from new developments and not use the stormwater tunnel to store foul sewage which is then discharged untreated to sea. This will only come about as a result of a public inquiry into the Whiitburn and Hendon sewage system.

As I have stated previously, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has looked at the conduct of both the EA and NWL in this matter and have recently identified that (with respect to the Whitburn and Hendon sewage system) there may have been a failure to comply with environmental law and that the failure may be potentially serious.

As the OEP have decided that they are not taking enforcement action (as they only act strategically) and local authorities are limited in what they can do, the only way forward is to call in the application to vary the conditions of the Whitburn discharge permit and request a public inquiry, as Sunderland City Councillors have done.


You can sign Steve’s petition to halt untreated sewage being pumped into our local coastal waters here

If you would like to reach out to Cllr Tracey Dixon and Cllr Ernest Gibson about this issue, you can contact them via email: and/or