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Is the Government doing enough to fix the UK’s rivers? Committee takes stock of water quality progress

23 April 2024

The Environmental Audit Committee announces a follow-up evidence session on water quality and water infrastructure, taking place on Wednesday 15 May 2024.

In its evidence session, the Committee will consider what progress has been made since the Committee’s influential 2022 report on ‘Water quality in rivers’.

In its 2022 report, the Committee called a step change in regulatory action, in water company investment and in cross-catchment collaboration, so as to restore rivers to good health and prevent further damage. MPs demanded far more assertive regulation and enforcement from Ofwat and the Environment Agency.

Several recommendations made in 2022 appear to have influenced Government and regulator policy. However there remain questions about the level of progress the Government has made on water quality since.

The Committee will return to its recommendations, examining the ongoing role of the environmental and economic regulators in enforcing responsible behaviour by water companies and taking action against unpermitted sewage discharges. Members will want to examine whether current plans for investment in infrastructure improvements are adequate, timely and deliverable, and how permitted sewage discharges are being monitored.

Chair's comment

Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Philip Dunne MP, said:

“Since the 2022 report of the Committee’s major inquiry into water quality in rivers, and the regulatory changes which Government and Parliament made in the Environment Act, much has changed. Public concern about the health of the UK’s waterways has grown, such that this issue is now an important topic of political debate and the focus of several high-profile campaigns.

“As concern has risen, so has Government and regulator activity. Announcements made over the last few months include a consultation on 27 new inland bathing sites, a Water Restoration Fund funnelling water industry fines directly back into improvements, and an action plan for the River Wye.

“We are also soon expecting Ofwat decisions on the industry’s capital expenditure plans for 2025 to 2030, as some private sector water companies are understood to be facing significant pressures.

“With the end of the Parliament fast approaching, the Committee would like to take stock of the current position as the political parties put together their policy proposals on water for the electorate.

“I encourage any groups concerned about water quality and water infrastructure to submit written evidence, and I look forward to returning to a subject of such significance to me and the Committee and, increasingly, to the general public.”

Terms of reference

The Committee plans to examine the following questions during the evidence session: 

  • What are the priorities for water infrastructure investment? Is Ofwat facilitating adequate investment in improving water quality and water security? 
  • How are water and sewage companies adapting to climate change?  
  • What is being done to ensure the financial resilience of water companies?  
  • How effective is Ofwat’s regulation of water companies and how are they working with the Environment Agency to assess compliance?  
  • What progress has there been in urban planning and development in relation to water supply and treatment? 
  • What is being done through the Sustainable Farming Incentive and other agricultural support mechanisms to help farmers to reduce pollution of waterways?  
  • How can water companies and other industries be more transparent about their impact on water quality? 
  • How effective are current sewage discharge monitoring systems and how will ‘real-time’ data on water quality in receiving waterbodies be monitored, published and used?  
  • Is water quality at bathing sites being monitored and publicised effectively?  
  • How far will new Government plans contribute to restoring the health of rivers?  

If you wish to submit written evidence on any of these issues for the Committee to consider in advance of the session, please do so by using the portal accessed via the Start button below. The deadline to submit evidence is noon on Thursday 2nd May 2024. 

It is recommended that all submitters familiarise themselves with the Guidance on giving evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons (pdf, 771KB)

Further information

Image: House of Commons