I would like to reassure my constituents that I did not vote to allow water companies to pump sewage into our rivers last week as some campaigns have caricatured. I voted in favour of a package of measures to reduce harms from storm overflows. These include a new duty on government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows, as well as a new duty directly on water companies to produce comprehensive drainage and sewerage management plans. Water companies will also be required to monitor water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows, and publish near real time information on their operation.
There were a number of reasons why we were unable to accept the Duke of Wellington’s well-intentioned amendment. The complete elimination of discharges from storm overflows would be extremely challenging. Initial assessments suggest that total elimination would cost anywhere from £150 billion to £600 billion. This process could involve the complete separation of sewerage systems, leading to potentially significant disruption for homes, businesses and infrastructure across the country. Customer bill increases, potentially amounting to many hundreds of pounds, and other trade-offs against other water industry priorities would be unavoidable. We need to understand what such trade-offs might be.
The current amount of sewage discharge by water companies into our rivers is not acceptable. We have made it crystal clear to water companies that they must significantly reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows as a priority. If we do not start to see significant improvements, we will not hesitate to take action directly on water companies through a swathe of new powers in the Environment Bill.