WESSEX Water has agreed a record £975,000 payout towards environmental improvements following a series of sewage spills in Swanage Bay.

More than 142,000 cubic metres of sewage was discharged into the sea during illegal spills in 2016 and 2017, the Environment Agency says.

One of these spills occurred during the 2016 Swanage Carnival weekend, prompting the town council to erect warning signs on the beaches.

The water company payment is part of an civil agreement, known as an Enforcement Undertaking (EU), which involves companies offering to right a wrong and compensate individuals or the environment.

Wessex Water has also offered £25,000 compensation to Swanage RNLI station as an impacted third party - taking the total payout to £1million.

RNLI lifeboat crew complained after sailing through raw sewage.

This latest overall EU package is the highest ever in the UK, and includes £400,000 towards a flood defence scheme in Swanage.

It also includes £400,000 to Dorset Waste Partnership, to fund development of a doorstep recycling service for domestic fat, oil and grease; £100,000 towards the Dorset Litter Free Coast and Sea Project; and £75,000 to Durlston Country Park and Nature Reserve.

Mark Sitton-Kent, from the Environment Agency, said: "“When water companies damage the environment by illegally polluting water the Environment Agency will take tough enforcement action against them including civil sanctions.

"This record payout will secure a range of environmental improvements for the local community, tourism and future water quality."

The Environment Agency says it accepted Wessex Water's EU on the basis the company accepted breaching legislation, and that the payments would secure improvements to the environment.

Wessex Water admitted failing to comply with the site's environmental permit on various dates between July 31, 2016 and August 3, 2017.

Swanage Sewage Treatment Works works is now operating in compliance with its permit and has been since April 2018.

Andy Pymer, managing director of Wessex Water Services, said: “During extreme weather, our water recycling centre at Swanage was unable to cope with the flows and this resulted in wastewater being discharged into the sea.

“We have an outstanding record for environmental performance, so what happened at Swanage was taken extremely seriously. 

“We have spent £3 million on additional treatment plant and we’ve kept the Environment Agency informed of improvement measures we’ve taken. 

“Our approach is always to improve and enhance the environment and, when things go wrong, to put the environment back in a better position than it was before the problem occurred. 

“That is why we offered to support the local authority and a range of local partnerships with such a significant financial contribution.

“We are pleased that this is helping to protect and further improve the environment.”