This morning, it was announced that the Government is set to enshrine measures to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows in law. This action will form part of an ambitious agenda to 'build back greener' from the pandemic.
This announcement comes off of the back of Phillip Dunne MP’s Private Member’s Bill, which The Rivers Trust have supported from its inception. The new legislation focuses on three key actions:
- A duty will be placed on the Government to publish a plan by September 2022, which will act to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows
- A duty will be placed on the Government to report to Parliament on progress on implementing the aforementioned plan
- A duty will be placed on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of The Rivers Trust, said:
“We welcome this further announcement from the government, which includes legal duties on the government and water companies. We look forward to understanding specific details on how this legislation will be introduced. Delivering a plan will require contributions from the whole of society, in particular landowners, housing developers, highway constructors and home owners, to divert clean water away from sewers. “People also need to play their part by not flushing oil, sanitary products, nappies and other unflushables down drains and sewers where they cause blockages. This concerted action needs to be driven by the government with legislation and funding for infrastructure and public education. We are delighted that Philip Dunne’s Private Member’s Bill, which The Rivers Trust has supported from the outset, has led to this step change.”
Christine Colvin, Director for Partnerships & Communications at The Rivers Trust, added:
"Dunne’s Bill was very broad ranging, addressing the need for clearer labelling on non-flushable sanitary products, developers rights to automatically connect to already over-stretched infrastructure, as well as a progressive phasing out of CSOs alongside phasing in sustainable drainage and nature based solutions. There has been wide-spread support from all political parties as well as the general public for the Bill, and nearly 5000 people wrote to their MPs highlighting the number of overspills in their constituencies. "Whilst Dunne’s Bill would have gone much further, the Minister’s announcement does represent a critical step forward in terms of the government’s duty. These headlines represent progress, and of course the devil will be in the detail. We will be pushing hard to ensure that the plan that is delivered next year will include the specific targets for government and water companies that will result in an urgent and sustained reduction in this pollution.’
We are glad to see that the ambition of the Private Members Bill has been picked up by the Government, but we are particularly keen to see how these policy changes will impact the health of our rivers in practice. Our rivers are suffering, and enshrining their recovery in law will be vital if they are to recover.
Raw sewage in our rivers
Sewage is discharged into rivers across the UK and Ireland on a daily basis. This isn’t an isolated problem; it occurs up and down the country, affecting urban city centre rivers and pristine chalk streams alike.