South Shropshire MP Philip Dunne has today backed the next stage of the government’s plan to tackle sewage pollution by enshrining a target to improve sewage overflows into law.
In August 2022 the government set out its Storm Overflows plan which requires the largest infrastructure programme in water company history to tackle sewage overflows – an estimated £56bn.
The plan prioritises investments in priority sites including protected habitats and bathing waters. In April, £1.6 billion investment was brought forward to speed up vital water infrastructure projects, cutting thousands of overflows spills each year.
Ministers also reconfirmed that they will be lifting the cap on civil penalties for water and sewerage companies, raising them up to unlimited penalties so that polluters pay for their impact on the environment, with proceeds from fines now to be reinvested into further improving rivers and water bodies through the Water Restoration Fund rather going directly to the Treasury.
Today’s announcement will place the improvement targets in the Storm Overflows Reduction Plan on a statutory footing, making them legally binding.
Philip Dunne said,
“Shropshire residents are rightly disgusted by sewage in our rivers, and so am I. I’ve been clear water companies must clean up their act now, and if they don’t I urge ministers to use the full force of the law, including unlimited penalties.
“Today’s debate in the Commons was yet another political gimmick from the Labour Party ahead of local elections. We deal in action; they deal in press releases. It was Jimmy-come-lately ill thought out back of the envelope proposal from Labour”.
Secretary of State Therese Coffey MP said:
“It is this Conservative government that will deliver 100 per cent monitoring of storm overflows. We’ve brought forward stronger regulations, tougher enforcement, and the largest water infrastructure programme in history – an expected £56 billion investment – and we will make fines unlimited so that the polluter always pays.”
The Environment Secretary has written to water companies requiring a plan on every overflow on her desk by the end of June. This builds on work to introduce mandatory monitoring, which is up from just 7% in 2010 to 100% by the end of this year. Thanks to this monitoring, regulators are undertaking the largest investigation into water companies in their history related to illegal sewage dumping, building on record fines of £141m secured since 2015.