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Comment: Philip Dunne MP reacts to Government announcement on river discharge investment

26 August 2022

Reacting to today’s announcement from the Government on increased investment to improve storm overflow infrastructure, Environmental Audit Committee Chair, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“After two and a half years campaigning on this issue, and a landmark committee inquiry, it is welcome news today to receive details of this sewage reduction plan which aims to leave the country's rivers and beaches cleaner and safer.

In its Water Quality in Rivers report in January, EAC called for a programme of long-term investment to limit the amount of surface rainwater entering the sewage system, which forces the dumping of untreated sewage into waterways.

The headline £56bn of capital investment in water treatment over the next 25 years will more than double what has been spent annually since privatisation of the water sector.  

I hope this will spell an end to the poisoning of river ecosystems and the harm done to bathers and other river users. It is right to focus on fixing the worst polluted sites first, as well as areas of special nature conservation such as chalk streams. The plan includes an undertaking for all overflows near designated bathing waters to be upgraded by 2035, and for 75% of sites located near high-priority nature sites to be improved by that year. It also calls for nature-based solutions to be prioritised by water companies as they identify remedial action.

The announcement that 100% of overflows will have monitors installed by next year is also good news. It is nevertheless crucial that the data provided by these devices is actively assessed by the Environment Agency and Ofwat, and that firm action is taken immediately if the data demonstrates that permit conditions have been breached.

As cost-of-living pressures increase, I also welcome the news that this investment from water companies will come at a cost to bill payers of just £1 extra per month for the first five years. Ofwat must use its powers and influence to ensure that the Government's strategic priorities are delivered by the sector through responsible re-investment of profits.

It is also welcome that water companies’ dividend payments will be required to reflect environmental performance. A continued focus on water quality must be a priority issue in water company boardrooms during the sustained period of investment today's announcement heralds.

The Committee will maintain a close watch on developments during this Parliament to ensure the Government remains on track to achieve its environmental objectives from this plan."

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