10 February 2023
Update on protection of our rivers, lakes, and seas

This week the Prime Minister reorganised Government, emphasising his drive to achieve Net Zero by creating a reformed Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, a single energy department to maintain the UK's global leadership on climate change and grasp the opportunities from renewables.

Last week the Environment Improvement Plan 2023 was published, a major stepping-stone of the Government's plan to improve the natural environment, being the first five yearly refresh of the 25-year Environment Plan. Goal 3 includes a lot of measures and targets to secure clean and plentiful water. 

Ministers set strict targets on sewage pollution, requiring water firms to invest £56 billion over coming years to upgrade infrastructure and end environmental harm from storm overflow discharges. Pollution from agriculture is also being addressed with the latest sustainable farming incentive published recently to encourage farmers with payments available for nutrient management and creating river habitats to tackle agrochemical pollution.

The public is right to be concerned about the state of our rivers, lakes, and seas. But it demeans our political life in this country when the level of debate descends to the gutter itself.

The accusation that Conservative MPs, including me, have voted to pump sewage into our waters is simply untrue.

Conservative MPs backed new targets in the last two weeks to tackle pollution. We voted for, while Labour and Lib Dems voted against, ambitious targets to reduce agriculture and wastewater pollution, over and above inherited EU targets and legislation on water quality. Compared to our European neighbours before we left the EU, the UK was 95 per cent compliant with its wastewater directive, compared to a 76 per cent average compliance across the continent.

While opposition parties play politics, backbench Conservatives have been pushing for and securing more action to clean up our rivers.

In November last year, we published a manifesto with six ways to accelerate efforts to clean up our rivers. Ministers have already implemented three of our suggestions, including ring-fencing fines from illegally polluting water firms to pay for environmental improvements, making water firms statutory consultees on significant planning applications, and launching a consultation on requiring all new homes to have sustainable drainage.

But Ministers need to go further to reassure the public and clean up our rivers for nature to thrive and for people to enjoy. Together with over 40 Conservative colleagues, I have called on the government to set a target to designate more bathing water sites, as is happening along 12 miles of the River Teme around Ludlow. I will continue my campaign to clean up our waters with deliverable measures and hold Ministers to account.