I’ve had a number of cards from constituents sent by the campaign organisation 38 degrees as part of their #SewageFest campaign demanding action on the pollution of waterways.
We should all have the right to clean water. No one should have to worry about enjoying coastal hotspots, or swimming in sewage-infested waters. People are rightly shocked at the shameful frequency of sewage discharges and the resulting damage to our most valued, delicate river habitats. The situation is a disaster for our natural environment and ecology and a significant public health issue.
We are in a dirty water emergency, with water companies discharging raw sewage into English waterways over 1.2 million times between 2016 and 2021.
Not only is this a public health hazard and dangerous for livestock, but it has a knock on effect on visiting British coastal destinations and the tourism industry. I raised this issue last summer as the sewage scandal ruined the bank holiday weekend for many.
Unfortunately since then, insufficient action has been taken to tighten regulation to stop water companies using discharges as a day-to-day measure instead of only in the most extreme circumstances.
The Government published its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan in August 2022 which will require water companies to reduce discharges into designated bathing water and high priority nature sites by 2035 and all sites by 2050. Labour don’t consider this a real plan as it doesn’t eliminate sewage dumping into our natural environment and could see millions more spills by 2035 based on last year’s data.
We want to see mandatory monitoring of all sewage outlets, the proper resourcing of the Environment Agency to properly enforce rules, and a legally binding target to end 90% of sewage discharges by 2030. We would also support automatic fines for discharges and a standing charge penalty for discharge points without monitoring in place.
Failures to improve should be paid for from company dividends, not through customer bills or lack of investment in the system. Labour believe water bosses who routinely and systematically break rules should be held professionally and personally accountable by striking off company directors and imprisonment for allowing serious leaks.
We also welcome the Office for Environmental Protection’s investigation into the regulation of sewage overflows.
Our water infrastructure is at bursting point with billions of litres of water wasted daily alongside these sewage discharges. We need a plan to address it.