Water company says bills will go up as firms plan £10bn fix to clean up UK's sewage mess

18 May 2023, 14:28 | Updated: 18 May 2023, 15:48

One water firm, Anglian Water, has said bills will go up
One water firm, Anglian Water, has said bills will go up. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Customers in a large area of England will have to pay more for water each year to help prop up a £10bn project to stop sewage spilling into Britain’s rivers and seas.

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One firm, Anglian Water, said today that customers face a ‘small increase of a few percent a year’ or the equivalent of £12 added to their bills to pay for it's £1bn share of the storm overflow project.

Anglian water said in a statement: “We estimate that the total ambition of our entire 2025-2030 business plan might require a bill increase of up to 25 pence a day.

"The proportion which is likely to go towards funding our river water quality programme is around 12% which would be the equivalent of a £12 a year bill increase by 2030.

"All of these proposals ultimately need to be approved by the industry regulators.”

The revelation comes after No10 said the plan to upgrade sewage overflows from storms should not ‘disproportionately affect consumer bills.’

Earlier this year the firm announced ‘immense profits’ and paid out £96.3m to private shareholders the previous year.

The firm has already announced a 10% rise in bills for 2023/24 - with customers paying an average increase of £47.77.

Read more: Water firms say sorry for sewage and unveil biggest modernisation of sewers 'since Victorian era'

A No 10 spokesman told reporters: "We welcome this apology from the water industry, but acknowledge there continues to be more that needs to be done.

"You'll know that we put the strictest targets ever on water companies to reduce sewage pollution and demanded that water companies deliver their largest ever infrastructure investments of £56 billion.

"But the plans that have been set out today will of course need to go through the correct regulatory approval first to both ensure they deliver on the targets that we've set whilst not disproportionately affecting consumer bills."

Asked whether the Prime Minister thinks it is fair that consumers will essentially foot the bill for water companies' inaction, the spokesman said: "We've been clear that we think water companies must put consumers above profits and we've said that previously, and we've taken steps to help drive progress and ensure they put consumers first.

"And we've been clear throughout that we don't want to see things disproportionately impacting customer bills, especially given we know that there are people up and down the country who are struggling with the cost of living, which is why we provided the help we have in that area."

Water firms have apologised for not acting quickly enough to tackle sewage spills - and have announced the biggest modernisation of sewers "since the Victorian era".

Water UK said plans for the largest ever investment in sewage networks will cut overflows by up to 140,000 each year by 2030, compared to the level in 2020.

It comes as firms in England apologised for failing to effectively tackle spills in rivers and beaches.

Environment Agency figures earlier this year showed there were a total of 301,091 sewage spills in 2022, an average of 824 a day.

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Ruth Kelly, chair of Water UK, said: "The message from the water and sewage industry today is clear - we are sorry.

"More should have been done to address the issue of spillages sooner and the public is right to be upset about the current quality of our rivers and beaches.

"We have listened and have an unprecedented plan to start to put it right. This problem cannot be fixed overnight, but we are determined to do everything we can to transform our rivers and seas in the way we all want to see."

The organisation said "£10 billion - more than triple current levels" is ready to be invested, "enabling the biggest modernisation of sewers since the Victorian era, and the most ambitious programme on sewage spills in the world".

Companies will be able to improve their sewer networks and treat overflow spills with less impact on rivers and seas under plans set to be unveiled in full this summer.

An independent data hub to inform the public of overflows and the rolling out of new swimming areas is also planned.

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In a letter apologising to its customers, Yorkshire Water said it is investing £180 million in reducing discharges from storm overflows over the next two years.

Chief executive Nicola Shaw said: "Tackling overflows, which were designed into the system as a relief valve, is a priority for us, but it is also a significant task.

"In Yorkshire, we have over 2,200 overflows and we know replumbing the whole of Yorkshire is not a quick fix as it would be both significantly disruptive and costly to customers.

"But, further investment from our shareholders is helping us tackle this issue."

Last month, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said the government would introduce legislation to put plans to reduce storm overflows on a "new legal footing".

The Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, published in August 2022, aims to eliminate sewage dumping by 2050 while cutting discharges close to "high priority" areas by 75% by 2035 and 100% by 2045.

High priority areas include Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Areas of Conservation and other environmentally sensitive areas.

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A spokesperson for Ofwat, the water regulator, said: "We welcome the apology from water companies and this now needs to be turned into action.

"We have been pushing water companies to do more, faster, for their customers and for our waterways and beaches. We look forward to seeing the plans and how companies will step up performance.

"Through our regulatory process, we will ensure they deliver the best possible outcomes over the next five years and beyond.

"It is important that companies continue to engage clearly with the public on how this proposed investment will benefit communities and improve quality of life."

Water minister Rebecca Pow said: "This apology by the water industry is not before time and I welcome it.

"The Government has put the strictest targets ever on water companies to reduce sewage pollution and demanded that water companies deliver their largest ever infrastructure investment - £56 billion.

"I am pleased that they are now taking action to deliver on this, but there is still a great deal more to do."

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