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Thames Water accused of acting like 'rogue traders' after 136% surge in sewage spills lasting over a day

27 March 2024, 08:24 | Updated: 27 March 2024, 08:28

Thames Water has been accused of acting like a 'rogue trader'
Thames Water has been accused of acting like a 'rogue trader'. Picture: Alamy/Windrush Against Sewage Pollution
Connor Hand

By Connor Hand

The UK’s biggest water company has been accused of acting like a "rogue trader" as the number of sewage spills lasting longer than 24 hours more than doubled in 2023.

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Data obtained by LBC shows that Thames Water was responsible for almost 1500 incidents of sewage dumping lasting over a day compared to 633 in 2022 - a staggering 136% increase.

It comes as Thames Water’s 15 million customers brace themselves for an inflation-busting 12.3% increase to their water bill from April 1, which the company says is necessary to make the necessary improvements to infrastructure.

Despite this ambition to rejuvenate the network of pipes which feed into Britain’s rivers, Ash Smith, founder of the campaign group Windrush Against Sewage Pollution, told LBC that he and his colleagues have witnessed spills which have lasted “months”.

Mr Smith said: “Some of these spills can go on for many, many weeks; we’ve known in Witney, for example, untreated sewage has been dumped almost non-stop for four months.

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

Read more: Water company bosses face bonus ban over illegal sewage spills which taint British beaches and rivers

Tom Swarbrick is in disbelief as this caller tells of rushing his daughter to hospital due to sewage

“If you look at [Colwell] Brook on the River Windrush, you’ll see it’s full of sewage fungus… it’s like a grey, gloopy thing you’d expect to find if you took the step of undoing the drain in your sink - that’s what’s in that brook. It’s a disgrace.

“The company is like a rogue trader. We don’t trust it. Give it more money and it will just be thinking of new ways to extract as much of it for their shareholders… the money should be coming back from the shareholders who never should have taken it in the first place.”

Thames Water also finds itself in the midst of significant financial difficulty.

The company is facing debts of nearly £19bn, forcing the government to draw up plans, known as ‘Project Timber’, which will be implemented if the firm goes under.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay on how bosses will face bonus bans for illegal sewage discharges

Together with concerns about their environmental record, these mammoth debts have led to calls from the Liberal Democrats to take Thames Water into special administration. They claim this would have the effect of turning Thames Water into a public benefit company, taking it out of private hands and redefining its operation so “profit is no longer put above environmental goals”.

Speaking to LBC, Munira Wilson, Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, whose constituency is served by Thames Water, accused the company of having a “horrendous track record of failing customers and dumping billions of liters of sewage into our rivers and waterways”.

Ms Wilson added: “We’ve seen over recent years water bosses grating themselves eye-wateringly high bonuses [and] at the same time, there has been very little investment in infrastructure, which is why we’re seeing these sewage spills.”

Later today, the Environment Agency is set to publish its annual report on the number of sewage spills that took place across England in 2023.

It’s the first time the agency has released its yearly figures since the industry body, Water UK, committed to invest £10bn in infrastructure by the end of the decade to combat overflowing sewage throughout Britain’s waterways.

Thames Water has been contacted for comment.

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