Worthing’s MPs vote against government on sewage discharge proposals

Worthing’s two Conservative MPs have voted against the government on proposals to reduce sewage discharges into rivers and seas.

Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 10:57 am
A busy Worthing beach this summer

An amendment from the Lords to the Environment Bill aiming to place new legal requirements on utility companies was defeated in the Commons on Wednesday (October 20).

The government argued the legislation would deliver a ‘resilient sewerage system’, but that eliminating storm sewage overflows would cost between £150billion and £660billion.

However both Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, and Worthing West MP Sir Peter Bottomley were among those to back the amendment and vote against the government.

‘Worst offender’

Earlier this year Southern Water was fined £90m for ‘deliberately’ pumping untreated sewage into the sea between 2010 and 2015.

Mr Loughton acknowledged the bill was a ‘landmark piece of legislation’ but his constituents wanted a ‘legally enforceable obligation on water companies to stop them routinely discharging raw sewage into our rivers and seas’.

He argued that without that legal obligation water companies can still cause harm by their sewage discharges with no guarantee of any immediate action to tackle pollution.

He added: “I am afraid that we are served by Southern Water, which is the worst offender. Although the new management have made great progress from all the illegal cases of discharge that went on, for which they have been handsomely and quite rightly fined, it is still happening too much on a routine basis.”

While he understood the implications of extreme weather conditions, he warned that if they did not do something about it they would have sewage popping up from under manhole covers and into people’s homes and gardens.

Need for more capacity

Mr Loughton went on to argue they should be doing more to increase capacity to deal with these events, and was not just talking about raw sewage but also primary treated sewage ‘which is still doing a lot of harm when it gets out’.

He added: “This can only get worse with the huge house building pressures that we have in the south-east in particular. The pressure is going to get greater, but I am afraid that the capacity to deal with it is not increasing at a commensurate rate. The requirements on sewage companies to do a clear-up when there have been discharges are not nearly tough enough.”

He continued: “People have had enough of this. We are weary of excuses about learning lessons, and about how a certain company is going to do better in the future and has no greater priority. The amendment needs to send out a strong message to put water companies on no uncertain notice that enough is enough and that there will now be a legally enforceable obligation to do far more, taking all reasonable steps to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows and proactively demonstrating that they have done so. They must show that they have improved the sewerage system, with the Government and their agencies bringing all their forces to bear to make sure that they abide by that, and that when they do not, they are properly punished. That is the minimum our constituents should expect.”

‘Resilient sewerage system’

During last week’s debate, environment minister Rebecca Pow described the government’s ‘absolute commitment to tackling the environmental harm caused by storm sewage overflows’.

She described how the bill introduced a statutory requirement on companies to produce drainage and sewerage management plans where they have to fully assess their network capacity and adopt a strategic approach to planning. She argued this would deliver a ‘resilient sewerage system addressing current and future risks and issues, such as population growth and climate change over a 25-year period’.

However she put the approximate cost estimate of eliminating storm sewage overflows at between £150billion and £660billion.

Outside of the bill, she said the government was producing a draft policy statement with regulator Ofwat, which would put action to address storm sewage overflows ‘at the top of the agenda’.

She added: “I think we would all agree that they are necessary in an emergency, but they have been used far too frequently.”