Shortly before Christmas, residents of the new Cuckoo Meadow housing development in Hailsham (due to be completed next year) began complaining about foul-smelling water in the continuation pond, which is overlooked by many of the new houses. The pond was also overflowing, so they suspected that sewage was somehow leaking into it. Their plight was immediately taken up by two local Wealden District Councillors, Neil Cleaver (Liberal Democract, Hailsham North West) and David White (Independent, Hellingly), who realised at once that this was an urgent matter. "Not only did the pond water smell terrible," says Councillor Cleaver, recalling his first visit to the site over six months ago, "but it was also constantly overflowing, even during a dry spell."
However, the residents' and Councillors' calls for the pond water to be tested were not immediately heeded. They were then alarmed to learn that the site's developer Bovis was pumping the excess pond water into a nearby brook leading to the Cuckmere River, which the Pevensey & Cuckmere Water Authority were apparently never informed about. And while the Environment Agency did carry out some tests, they were only able to take samples from the nearby watercourse rather than the actual pond.
Finally, after pressure from Wealden District Council Planning Department, Bovis carried out proper tests on the pond water in June, and these results have confirmed "a high level of sewage pollution". On reading the full analysis of the tests, Environment Agency Officers noted that the pollution levels were "significantly higher than expected" and that they "indicate the presence of a significant level of faecal contamination, most likely due to sewage entering the balancing pond," adding: "there is a significant likelihood of damage to both the watercourse and to aquatic life".
Consequently Bovis has been ordered to cease pumping into the stream at once, and to completely empty the pond, removing the contaminated water by tanker to an authorised disposal point. Next they must thoroughly investigate all possible sources of contamination in order that the cause be identified and properly fixed.
Councillors Cleaver and White, while pleased to hear that the issue was finally being addressed, shared the residents' frustration that it had taken over six months for positive action to be taken. "This should've been done well before lockdown started," said Councillor Cleaver, "but instead, Cuckoo Meadow residents had to put up with the polluted pond during twelve long weeks of being confined to their area - and the stench is even worse during fine weather." It's not only residents in the new development who are affected - people using the nearby Cuckoo Trail, and even residents on the other side of it, have complained of the terrible smell.
Unfortunately, it seems that the issue is still not over. When Councillor Cleaver visited the site on Friday (July 3rd) to check that the pond had been drained as agreed, he found that it was still full of contaminated water and the smell was as bad as ever. One homeowner, whose house is closest to the pond, said that she and her husband had noticed some pumping being done earlier in the week. "But the pond was never fully drained and within a couple of days it had filled up again with foul water," she said. "We've been trying to contact Bovis all week but so far we've heard nothing back. So yet again we can't open our windows and have to hold our breath whenever we have to go outside. At this point, we are beyond fed up."