Surrey Heath Borough Council question Thames Water executive following Camberley sewage works incident

Thames Water Camberley Sewage Treatment Works sign

Surrey Heath Borough Council has secured a commitment from Thames Water that an imported sewage incident of the type which blighted many Camberley residents’ summer will never be allowed to happen there again.  

However, the Council continues to press Thames Water to make a meaningful financial contribution to a community project in the local area by way of compensation. 

Thames Water imported sewage sludge into their Camberley Sewage Treatment Works earlier this year, holding it in open tanks during one of the hottest summers on record, causing a foul smell severely affecting the local community. 

Following complaints from residents and repeated intervention from the Council, odour suppression equipment was installed and made fully operational and the sludge was eventually removed by late September.   

Thames Water Operations Director for Thames Valley and the Home Counties, James Bentley, appeared before the External Partnerships Select Committee of Surrey Heath Borough Council on 28 November. 

Surrey Heath Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Net Zero, Wellbeing and Environment, Cllr Morgan Rise said: “We appreciate Mr Bentley appearing before the Select Committee, and it was good to hear him formally apologise for the incident at Camberley Sewage Treatment Works which ruined thousands of people’s summer because of the horrendous smell.  

“We’ve also been assured by Thames Water that an incident of this type would never happen again at the Camberley site, as a result of the conditions of the Environment Agency permit being changed.  

“However, I am hugely disappointed by Mr Bentley’s failure to honour a previous commitment made to councillors to fund a local community project as compensation to residents of St Michaels and Watchetts wards for the intolerable stench they endured for months.  

“I feel that the alternative suggestion from Thames Water of some ‘labour in support of a project’ is wholly insufficient, and sincerely hope that Thames Water seriously reconsider financial compensation to residents in order to begin rebuilding the trust they have lost.” 

Appearing before the Committee, Mr Bentley acknowledged that Thames Water had made mistakes in the course of the incident, where 6,000 cubic metres of raw sewage sludge was moved to the Camberley site as an emergency measure, because of a lack of storage elsewhere.  

The Camberley site did not have the ability to process the sludge, and it was stored in open tanks, leading to a foul odour affecting local residents and businesses for a period of months. 

Mr Bentley apologised for the lack of communication with the Council and residents during the incident, and the delay in installing effective odour control on the tank. He said Thames Water had adjusted their procedures as a result of lessons learned through this process. 

He did however highlight the company successfully completing the removal of the sludge in the timescale they had committed to as a positive point.  

Mr Bentley told the committee that while he had been asked by councillors to consider some form of financial acknowledgement as compensation, he had not confirmed it would happen, only that he would take it to his leadership colleagues for consideration. He said this proposal had not been approved, but an offer had been made of labour towards a community project. 

James Bentley, Thames Water's Operations Director Thames Valley and Home Counties said: “We apologise for the impact this emergency storage of sludge has had on the residents of the area near Camberley Sewage Works. We should have communicated more proactively with residents and responded better to the understandable concerns that were raised.  We have learned from this situation and I am pleased to say that this site will no longer be used for such emergency sludge operations.”