Campaigners demand end to raw sewage being dumped in rivers after MPs voted not to stop it

25 October 2021, 19:40 | Updated: 25 October 2021, 20:50

Surfers Against Sewage have released an interactive map showing the worst affected coastal areas
Surfers Against Sewage have released an interactive map showing the worst affected coastal areas. Picture: Surfers Against Sewage

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Environmental campaigners have condemned Tory MPs who voted against amending a bill to stop companies dumping raw sewage into rivers and seas.

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MPs last week voted to remove the Lords amendment to the Environment Bill which aimed to clean up rivers by placing a new duty on water companies to reduce sewage discharges when drains are overwhelmed.

It was put forward by crossbench peer the Duke of Wellington and would have forced companies and the Government to "take all reasonable steps" to avoid using sewer overflows.

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However, MPs voted 268 to 204, majority 64, to disagree with proposals. Only 22 Conservative MPs rebelled and supported the measures.

Environment Agency figures show that water companies discharged raw sewage more than 400,000 times into England’s waterways for a period of 3.1 million hours in 2020.

Campaign groups Rivers Trust and Surfers Against Sewage have both called for action to tackle sewage being dumped into waterways and at coastal spots, producing interactive maps showing the rivers and beaches worst affected by the problem.

Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, said: "In this most important of environmental decades, it’s shocking that the Government recommended that MPs reject progressive and ambitious amendments that would protect water, air and nature.

"Why wouldn’t they want water companies to have a legal obligation not to pollute our rivers and ocean with sewage, for example? It beggars belief and hardly shows a commitment to be the greenest government ever. 

"It’s time for more ambitious thinking and law that builds protected nature back into public ownership rather than leaving it to the ravages of shareholder interests."

It comes just days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosts world leaders at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.

It also comes after businesses admitted they were struggling to get hold of sewage treatment chemicals due to the lack of lorry drivers caused by Brexit and Covid.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "The amount of sewage discharge by water companies into our rivers is unacceptable. 

"We have made it clear to water companies that they must significantly reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows as a priority. 

"To this end we have added a range of new legally-binding obligations directly on water companies in the Environment Bill, as well as over £3 billion of water company investment to tackle pollution in rivers, and we expect to see results."