There are a number of highly politically partisan websites that pass themselves off as objective sources of news.
So, when I was informed that I had voted to pump raw sewage into our rivers, it was certainly news to me. On the contrary, I voted through six pages of measures to stop raw sewage going into our watercourses.
As a regular swimmer throughout the year in rivers and off our beaches, I have every incentive to end the pollution of our waters.
The Government has already made the water companies spend £3 billion to reduce their discharges. Now, with the Environment Bill and the Government’s strategic policy statement which, for the very first time by any Government, directs the regulator to ensure that water companies tackle sewage discharges.
I will consider any new amendment to the Environment Bill that will expedite the removal of sewage from our waters and I await with interest whatever the Lords are now about to send back to the Commons.
Nevertheless, I stand by what I said after last week’s debate:
I believe that the Environment Bill demonstrates an absolute commitment by the Government to tackling sewage discharges. It introduces an entire new chapter to the Water Industry Act 1991, which places a statutory requirement on the Government to produce a plan to reduce the discharges from storm overflows before 1 September 2022, and commits it to taking action and reporting on progress to Parliament. The Government will also be required to produce a report on the actions that would be needed to eliminate discharges from storm overflows completely in England, and their costs and benefits, before 1 September 2022.
The difficulty with the previous Lord’s amendment, which I voted against in the Commons, is that it put the cart before the horse: we don’t yet have a clear idea of the costs, or a plan yet for ending discharges, but the amendment wanted to outlaw the discharges before we know how to do it.
We rely on Victorian designed sewers that combine, in one system, all the water from our lavatories together with the water that runs off out streets when it rains. As the population has grown exponentially we’ve had to invest in expanding the capacity to treat the waste from so many more lavatories. Equally, we’ve paved over so much more of our land surfaces so that more rain enters the sewers rather than being absorbed by the ground. More importantly however, whilst we get pretty well the same amount of rain as before, the changing climate is delivering it in much more intensive bursts with which the system has not the capacity to cope, resulting in the untreated emergency discharges into our rivers
Currently the Storm Overflows Task Force is charged with finding out the extent of what needs to be done. Estimates of the costs vary widely by £ hundreds of billions. Before we fix a date and outlaw the discharges we need to know the scope of the work, the amount that will need to be invested and the impact it will have on our bills (the polluter pays!).
Were we to outlaw storm discharges before can realistically be delivered, we’ll have rain water and sewage backing up in the system to flood our lavatories, streets and gardens.