Conservative Conference – Ministers told to act now to ‘Stop the Sewage Spills’

The call from angling and environmental groups for the Government to take meaningful action to end the scandal of increasing amounts of untreated sewage polluting our rivers and streams was taken to the Conservative’s Manchester Conference this week by Angling Trust Policy Chief Martin Salter who shared a platform at the Rural Reception with Environment Secretary George Eustice.

Last week the Angling Trust and Salmon & Trout Conservation published their Time to Fix the Broken Water Sector report calling on the Government to issue clear and unambiguous instructions to the water regulator OFWAT in the forthcoming Strategic Policy Statement (SPS) to compel and enable water companies to repair sewerage systems and invest in adequate resources for water supply.

In his speech to Ministers, MPs and delegates Martin Salter said:

“We desperately need Defra and OFWAT approve a wholesale overhaul of the ageing sewerage network to end the scandal of untreated effluent ending up in our rivers. After years of welcome improvements, the condition of our rivers is getting worse not better with 400,000 instances of sewage discharges last year and a waste water infrastructure that is no longer fit for purpose.

“A quarter of a million extra houses promised every year and no clear plans as to where the water is coming from or where or how the sewage will be treated.

Martin Salter speaking at the Conservative Conference on Monday, October 4th

“Shockingly, our report reveals that OFWAT operates on the assumption of a 2,000 year lifespan for the sewerage network – 10 times more than the European average. Little wonder then that burst pipes and the overwhelming of sewage treatment works is now almost a daily occurrence.”

The Rural Reception is an annual event at all three main party conferences organised by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Angling Trust. It aims to highlight current issues of concern to both sports.

Nick Measham, CEO of Salmon & Trout Conservation, said:

“The freshwater environment is in crisis, with much of the harm being driven by over-abstraction for water supplies and sewage pollution caused by water companies. Now is the time for OFWAT to take environmental issues seriously and not be constrained by attempts to cap water bills for short term political gain. Without a step change in public policy – leading to significantly increased levels of investment in water infrastructure – the situation will only worsen with dire economic and environmental consequences.”

The ‘Broken Water’ report includes a ‘shadow’ SPS which, if adopted by the Government, would set out strategic priorities for OFWAT that demand environmental improvement, and a significant increase in capital investment in the failing waste water infrastructure that threatens to irreversibly damage the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems in this country.

It can be found in full here


1.    Broken Water and the ‘shadow’ SPS from Angling Trust & S&TC highlights the following key points:

  • Failure of OFWAT to take environmental issues seriously in the past.
  • A £10 billion investment funding gap over the last 10 years.
  • The declining condition of rivers and streams due to 400,000 extra sewage spills last year.
  • England has only one site on a river seeking to achieve ‘bathing water status’ compared to 32 in Germany, 76 in Poland and 420 in France.
  • The absurd expectation of a 2000-year lifetime for sewage pipes and other infrastructure.
  • Failure to build any new reservoirs in the southeast despite a 3 million population increase and huge projected growth in house building.
  • That lack of investment in water supply has seen excessive groundwater abstraction drying up some chalk streams altogether and damaging many other rivers.
  • The impossibility of delivering commitments in the Government’s own 25 Year Environment Plan and our legal obligation under the Water Framework Directive.
  • Failure of both the Government and OFWAT to pay any heed to the promises in the 2011 water white paper or indeed the warnings from the National Infrastructure Commission and the National Audit Office about the pressing need for investment in water and sewerage systems to address the challenges of climate change and population growth.
  • The prospect of severe drought events causing parts of southern England to run out of water within 20 years.
  • That the consequences of failing to invest in water infrastructure will cost more in the long term – £40bn versus £21bn and thousands of jobs.

2.    The Government’s draft SPS closes for consultation on October 15th and provides a unique opportunity to refocus OFWAT’s priorities so that it can facilitate rather than impede public policy objectives including the Government’s own 25 Year Environment Plan.

3.    The Rivers Trust report on the State of our Rivers can be found here.

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