Yesterday the Environment Bill came back to the Commons. 2 weeks ago I voted against the Government and voted for the Duke of Wellingtons’s Storm Overflow amendment. I, as part of a small group voted for the Duke’s amendment because even though the new provisions the Government had included in the Environment Bill were significant and placed new obligations on water companies, I thought that we hadn’t gone as far as practically possible within the Bill.
So I am very pleased that after lots of Ministerial engagement with colleagues, particularly Philip Dunn MP who’s private members bill was the basis for the Duke’s Amendment originally, the Government laid an amendment which does indeed now create a new Legal Duty on water companies who “Must secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impact on discharges and storm overflows, reducing adverse impacts on the environment and reducing adverse impacts on public health”
Sadly there has been lots of misinformation put out over the last 2 weeks suggesting that MPs who voted against the amendment were “Voting to allow Sewage dumping in our rivers and Seas” This is factually wrong. In fact this Government is the 1st ever to have taken up the challenge to deal with the Storm Overflow, which previous governments had done absolutely nothing about.
I supported the new Government Amendment yesterday and the Duke has indicated that he is now also content with what the Government has brought forward.
This new legal duty in the amendment will compliment what was already in the Environment Bill as below:
- A new duty for Government Statutory plan to reduce discharges from overflows
- A new duty on Water Companies and Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflows operation annually
- A new duty for Government to set out actions needed to eliminate storm overflows
- A new duty on water companies to publish real time information (within 1 hour) of an overflow
- A new duty on water companies to monitor water quality upstream and downstream of overflows
- A new duty on water companies to produce statutory Drainage and Sewage management plans
- A Power for Government to direct water companies in relations to actions if the management plans are not good enough
The Environment Agency and OFWAT have failed to use their powers over the last 30 years, under the section 18 of the water industry act 1991 and now the Government will giving Improved guidance to Ofwat.
The provisions in this Bill are a major step towards ending the use of Storm overflows by water companies cleaning up over rivers and seas. This is a practice that has gone on for decades, coupled with under investment by water companies in infrastructure. There is a cost to this which will be borne by the waters companies and water bill payers.
As someone who has grown up on the River Medway, sailed on it, swam in it, and also experienced first hand the use of storm overflows I know what I am talking about. The next thing I would like to see tackled is House Boat sewage being pumped directly into our river. The Environment Bill covers so much about our environment and has some great things in for our future so I would suggest residents take the time to look in to some of the great work that is being done.