Local MP Andrew Jones has vowed to back a new amendment to the Government’s Environment Bill providing a costed plan to reduce sewage in our waterways. This followed the rejection of an earlier amendment from the Lords.
Mr Jones commented: “There are many elements in the current bill which improve water quality and I voted for them but I voted against this one amendment from the House of Lords.
“I agreed with the principle of the amendment. It is admirable and there cannot be anyone who wants pollution of waterways. The question is how we make progress rather than whether we should. That is where the amendment was poorly planned and drafted and why I did not support it.
“I have received some correspondence that suggests the UK, following the rejection of the Lords amendment, will now be starting to release sewage into rivers. In fact, sewage has been released into rivers since Victorian times and before due to the way in which the sewer system was constructed where clean rainwater and foul water from toilets travel down the same pipes to the sewage works.
“In times of the heaviest rain the system may not be able to handle the volume of water so to prevent the sewage backing up and flooding into homes or on to roads the overspill is released into rivers and the sea. I agree this is happening too frequently and with climate change causing more severe weather events it could worsen.
“Modern houses are built with different systems but replacing the sewage systems for older properties would be expensive – some estimate this could be as much as £650 billion. To put this in context, that is more than was spent on the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the same amount of cash we spend on our NHS over five full years.
“It would also mean an immense amount of work on the public highway and on to private property. There is no quick fix to this issue.
“So it would not be sensible to support such a complicated change without having a costed plan. This is what the Lords amendment lacked and why I did not support it.
“I do not though underestimate the size of the plan required. There are estimated to be 200,000km of combined sewers in our country. In 2020 water companies discharged raw sewage into English rivers over 400,000 times and this is an issue the government and water industry need to tackle faster.
“The Environment Bill has already started to do this with new duties on water companies to monitor water quality around sewage disposal works and to introduce Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans.
“So the government is tabling a new amendment to address the weaknesses of the earlier Lords Amendment. This will strengthen the legislation placing a new duty on water companies that reduces, over time, the impact of storm overflow discharges and provides for enforcement too. This is better than the previous amendment, and I will support it. It is better because it recognises that further progress is urgently needed but that there is no quick fix which can deal with centuries of building practice.
“Again, it is more complicated than simply raising my hand for an amendment. The Environment Bill tackles the issue in a planned systematic way, and I am sure that is the correct way to tackle this issue. To totally eliminate combined sewers means 200,000km of roadworks and the bill running into hundreds of billions of pounds causing water bills to go up by thousands of pounds for every household.
“We all want fast progress on the issue but that requires a plan. To have voted for the Lords amendment without a plan, a recognition of the vast funds required or an enforcement mechanism would have done a dis-service to the seriousness of the issue.”