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Statement: OEP launches investigation into the regulation of combined sewer overflows

28 June 2022

Chair's comments

Reacting to the announcement by the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) that it is to investigate the regulation of combined sewer overflows, Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“The OEP’s announcement that it will accept our recommendation to investigate the regulation of combined sewer overflows is the latest step in a long line of moves to get sewage pollution under control. Just last week, in front of the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee, I questioned the effectiveness of the regulators policing pollution in our rivers. As a result of political pressure, public outcry and lobbying by environmentalists, Parliament has legislated and there now appears to be more impetus than ever before to crack down properly on a major cause of river pollution.

The largest and most profitable water companies in England are overseeing illegal sewage discharges, and over the weekend the Chief Medical Officer warned of the serious public health concern should recreational river users ingest the harmful bacteria in such discharges. The water companies have been giving their assurances and saying all the right things to clean up their act, but it is for the regulators and the enforcement regime to judge whether they are taking enough action to protect our environment.

Our Committee’s report considering water quality in rivers raised concerns over monitoring and enforcement of a range of pollutants coursing through our rivers, including sewage discharges from combined sewer overflows. We invited the OEP to reflect on our conclusions and recommendations within our report, and to use the powers granted by Parliament to drive improvement of the regulation and enforcement regimes which govern the state of England’s rivers.”

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