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Nationalise water companies to help reduce sewage pollution, ministers told

·4-min read
Ministers have been told to ‘cut the crap’ by nationalising water companies and accelerating efforts to reduce sewage pollution (Toby Williams/PA) (PA Archive)
Ministers have been told to ‘cut the crap’ by nationalising water companies and accelerating efforts to reduce sewage pollution (Toby Williams/PA) (PA Archive)

Ministers have been told to “cut the crap” by nationalising water companies and accelerating efforts to reduce sewage pollution.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas also accused the Government of having “utterly failed” to take action to stop “literal shit” being pumped into rivers and seas.

Conservative MPs were among those to call for swifter action and to suggest water company bosses should not be taking their “huge salaries” and bonuses if they cannot show their “house is in order”.

George Eustice, responding as Environment Secretary, insisted the Government is acting on a “scale never seen before” to deal with the challenges posed by storm overflows.

He added that water companies should “consider themselves on notice – we will not let them get away with illegal activity”.

Firms face new targets to improve the sewerage system, including all overflows releasing into, or near, all designated bathing waters, and 75% of those discharging to high priority sites, by 2035.

By 2050, no storm overflows will be permitted to operate outside of unusually heavy rainfall or to cause any adverse ecological harm.

Consumers will not pay any extra towards such measures until 2025; however, it is anticipated there will be a cost to follow, according to the plan, with modelled bill increases averaging £12 per year between 2025 and 2030.

Ms Lucas, who secured an urgent question in the Commons, said outside the chamber: “Literal shit is being pumped into our rivers and seas. The state of our water network is a national scandal and the Government has utterly failed to take action.”

Speaking in the Commons, the MP for Brighton Pavilion added: “We have a so-called plan that allows water companies to continue polluting until 2035 in areas with significant importance to human and ecological health and until 2050 elsewhere – that’s sanctioning almost 30 years more of pollution.”

She accused the Government of “going backwards”, adding: “Will he now cut the crap, will he commit to strengthening the Government’s plan and bring our failing system back into public hands where it belongs?”

Mr Eustice had told MPs: “This is the first Government to set a clear requirement on water companies to reduce the harm caused by sewage discharges and we’ve set this in law through the Environment Act. We’re taking action on this now on a scale never seen before.

“Water companies are currently investing £3.1 billion now to deliver 800 storm overflow improvements across England by 2025; this will deliver an average of a 25% reduction in discharges by 2025.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Government is acting on a ‘scale never seen before’ to deal with the challenges posed by storm overflows (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Government is acting on a ‘scale never seen before’ to deal with the challenges posed by storm overflows (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

Research by the Liberal Democrats last month suggested the average water company boss’s total pay rose by 20% over the last year, despite concerns over leaks and sewage being pumped into the sea.

They found 22 water company executives across Great Britain were paid £24.8 million, including £14.7 million in bonuses, benefits and incentives in 2021/2022.

Tory former environment minister Rebecca Pow defended the Government’s record on taking action, before telling the Commons: “What’s important now is that the regulator uses the powers it has got, uses the new directions it has had, the EA (Environment Agency) takes the prosecutions following this intensive investigation, and the water companies do not take those huge salaries if they cannot demonstrate that their house is in order.”

Conservative MP Martin Vickers said he held talks with Anglian Water in connection with his Cleethorpes constituency, adding: “Notwithstanding what the minister has said, I was left with the feeling that actually we could be harder on them in terms of the targets that we set.

“Whether that’s through the (Secretary of State), Ofwat or the Environment Agency matters not, could we actually look again at the targets we are setting? 2035 was mentioned earlier in his response – that is a long way away.

“Traders in Cleethorpes want people to come along and be confident that the waters are clean.”

Mr Eustice said it is possible to accelerate investment from 2027, adding: “It is not the case that nothing is happening until 2035, indeed we’re spending over £3 billion to 2025, which will lead to a 25% reduction.”