Residents vow to step up campaigning over sewage in a Shropshire river

Residents are set to demonstrate to make their calls to clean up the River Severn at Shrewsbury heard.

The Coton Hill campaigners draw up their anti-pollution battle plan
The Coton Hill campaigners draw up their anti-pollution battle plan

About 50 people packed into Friends Meeting House in Coton Hill on Thursday to voice their concern over sewage and other pollution that is turning the water into a foul cocktail.

"You can see the change in the water, it's getting dirtier and smellier," said swimmer Melissa Compton, who became the first female to swim the river from the source to the sea in 2019. But she became very ill after swallowing some of the polluted water further downstream.

"At Tewkesbury it tasted like someone had vomited in my mouth."

She added that after she became ill, some people abused her on social media. But she said "we have a right to be in that water."

The scale of the river pollution was set out in graphic detail by Pete Lambert, the land and water manager of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

Tyres that leach out 40 compounds can pollute the river for 50 years, he said. There's also a cocktail of domestic chemicals, oils, paint, sewage and even grass cuttings can kill fish, he claimed.

Shrewsbury's Victorian sewers mix up rain water with what is flushed down the loo and that overflows after periods of heavy rain at various points in the river loop around the town.

Mr Lambert said there have been thousands of such incidents documented by the Rivers Trust and it costs more and more money for the water companies to clean up so residents can drink it safely.

Mr Lambert said: "You should call the Environment Agency if you see signs of pollution. It will get noticed the more reports they get."

But resident and campaign organiser Claire Kirby said overflowing human waste at the Flash Garden, off Pig's Trough in Coton Hill, had been reported numerous times with nothing happening to clean it up.

"If something isn't done the river will be dead in five years," she said. "Nobody is being held to account over this mess, so it is up to us."

Severn Trent Water came in for heavy criticism, but Stuart Hill, of the company, turned up to the meeting after reading about it in the Shropshire Star.

He said the company is forming a team of 10 River Rangers across the region, including four in the Shrewsbury area, to highlight concerns.

"The chief executive wants this to be a big issue for us," said Mr Hill, who joined Severn Trent two weeks ago. His team of River Rangers should all be in place by Christmas, he said.

But Mr Hill, who lives in Bridgnorth, said the issue of investment in Shrewsbury's old sewerage system was not on his agenda. "We're not going to solve that any time soon," he said.

The role of the River Rangers would be to take action on specific environmental issues, and being alert to problems after flooding or heavy rainfall.

"We want to be proactive and hoping to spend time in Shrewsbury rather than waiting for calls to come through," he said.

"We are trying as a company to make things better," he added.

Local politicians came in for criticism, too, with campaigners saying they wanted to turn up the heat on the local MP and councillors, some of whom had been invited but did not show up.

Mr Lambert said he "expected to hear from the town council that we are going to have a public meeting involving Severn Trent."

Residents formed groups during the two hour meeting to talk about what action they can take to put the issue up the political agenda.

There were calls to make developers pay to upgrade the sewers, and calls for MPs to make water companies more accountable.

They are also planning an eye-catching demonstration, Claire revealed.

"We want to see people dressed in snorkels and flippers, and wearing towels on a demonstration through the town.

"Shrewsbury's Big Town Plan is predicated on having a beautiful river, so they should listen to us."

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