Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about the recent amendments to the Environment Bill regarding sewage and holding water companies to account.
I believe that the amount of sewage discharged by water companies into our rivers is unacceptable, I was a long time supporter of the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, which was put forward by my colleague Phillip Dunne MP. I am glad that Ministers have made it crystal clear that sewage discharges from storm overflows must be reduced as a priority and have since included many of the provisions from the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill into the Environment Bill. I have every confidence that these provisions in the Environment Bill (and the new provisions announced outside of it) will absolutely deliver progressive reductions in the harm caused by storm overflows and any suggestion to the contrary is both disingenuous and untrue.
Direct action being taken through the Bill will require water companies to monitor the water quality impacts of their sewage discharges and to publish this information, with the Secretary of State able to make regulations in response. This will ensure water companies reduce sewage discharges that cause the most harm to the environment and public health. I understand that water companies will also need to publish near real-time information, within 1 hour, on when their storm overflows operate.
Further, by September 2022 the Government will be required to produce a plan to reduce storm overflows and their harm as well as a report considering the costs and benefits of eliminating overflows entirely. Separately, Ministers will undertake a review of legislation that would require Sustainable Drainage Systems to be constructed to Ministerial standards on new developments. I know that this ‘blue-green’ infrastructure can deliver a number of benefits; it can prevent water from entering foul sewers, reduce surface flooding, improve biodiversity and improve associated carbon emissions.
The amendment (45B) to the Environment Bill that I voted against sought to place a new duty on water companies in England and Wales to demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage. In theory, this is a good idea and there are already many similar provisions in the Environment Bill, which the Government has announced they will be strengthening further in response to this amendment. However, the amendment that I voted down contained no plan and no impact assessment and would have meant that water companies would have passed many of the required infrastructure costs onto the consumers. I felt that my constituents would not appreciate receiving the bill for something that should be the responsibility of water companies.
You can read more about the Government’s most recent plans here:
Ultimately it is infrastructure improvements that will prevent future dumping of sewage into our rivers. Therefore, I am encouraged that between 2020 and 2025, water companies will invest £3.1 billion in storm overflow improvements. This includes £1.9 billion on the Thames Tideway Tunnel super sewer, as well as £1.2 billion of other investment throughout England. Finally, the draft Strategic Policy Statement to Ofwat (The Water Services Regulation Authority) sets out, for the first time, how water companies are expected to take steps to significantly reduce storm overflows.