Sewage dumping ‘scandal’ means councils must be able to fine water companies, say Lib Dems

‘Tories have voted time after time to let water companies keep pumping filthy sewage into our rivers’, says Ed Davey

Local authorities should be given the power to fine the water companies dumping enormous amounts of sewage into England’s rivers and lakes, the Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey has said.

In a speech to the Local Government Association today, Mr Davey accused the Conservatives of refusing "to lift a finger" and letting polluting companies off the hook while water quality has worsened and profits risen.

The call comes after the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) announced an investigation into environment secretary George Eustice, the Environment Agency and water services regulator Ofwat over their alleged failure to enforce rules on untreated sewage being pumped into rivers and seas in England.

Mr Davey said his party was calling on the government to ban sewage discharges in swimming spots and introduce a tax on water companies, which made £2.8bn in operating profits last year, with the funds accrued being used to "clean up" rivers.

The calls also come after the Liberal Democrats won a by-election victory in what was previously a safe Conservative seat in Devon in a political battle where water quality took centre stage, as the Lib Dem candidate’s son had recently fallen ill after swimming in contaminated water.

Speaking this afternoon in Harrogate Mr Davey said: “For far too long, water companies have been allowed to dump sewage into our beautiful rivers, lakes and the sea.

”We need action now. Liberal Democrats have long called for tougher action on water companies. Whether that’s a sewage tax on their profits to help fund the clean up, or a ban on bonuses for water company bosses until these sewage dumps stop.

“Yet still, the Conservatives refuse to lift a finger. They have voted time after time to let water companies keep on pumping their filthy sewage straight into our rivers."

In evidence to the Lords’ Industry and Regulators Committee on Tuesday, experts said the government’s existing plans were set to exacerbate the problem rather than tackle it.

“What this plan does is it appears to reduce the legal responsibilities on water companies and kick them into the future," warned solicitor for Salmon and Trout Conservation, Guy Linley-Adams.

Mr Davey also called for greater scrutiny of the water companies.

According to analysis by the Lib Dems, across England there are 1,430 monitors installed by water companies which did not work for at least 90 per cent of the time, and 1,689 storm overflows which do not have a monitor installed.

They said this means "we have no idea how long sewage was discharged by water companies".

Mr Davey described it as a "scandal".

“That is why Liberal Democrats are now calling for local authorities to have the power to fine water companies when they pollute our waterways.

“Because if the Conservatives won’t take action in Westminster, then your local council must be empowered to do so instead.

“We want to put power in communities’ hands to hold these water companies to account – and that requires transparency. So we want to see water companies telling us every month how often they’re polluting our waters, with councils able to fine those who try to cover it up.”

Following Tuesday’s OEP announcement of an investigation into alleged government failings on sewage, Labour’s Alex Sobel, the shadow minister for nature recovery and the domestic environment, told The Independent: “Yet another investigation into the Tories’ mishandling of Britain’s dirty water crisis is a damning indictment of their environmental record.”

But the government defended its record. Environment minister Rebecca Pow told The Independent: “While we fully support the OEP’s investigation, we are going further and faster than any other government to protect and enhance the health of our rivers and seas."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in