In recent months there has been growing concern at the level of storm overflow discharges and much work has been done to look towards reducing this. Following the Government announcement in April that its target to reduce storm overflows will be enshrined in law, John welcomes the water industry apology and announcement on its plan of action.
In a note to MPs the Chief Executive of Water UK, David Henderson said: There have understandably been significant and growing concerns about the condition of our rivers and beaches over the last few months and I know this is an issue about which that Parliamentarians across the political spectrum care deeply… We should have given this issue much more attention. We should have acted much faster to recognise the impact of sewage spills on people’s enjoyment of rivers and beaches, and put forward plans more quickly to deal with that. We have not shown the leadership that customers expect. The industry has listened and heard, and today we say: we are sorry.”
John said: “I am very pleased that the water industry has accepted that it has fallen short of expectation and has now taken on board the concerns and embraced the need to act with some urgency. It will still take time to improve the hundreds of miles of sewers but it is good that the industry is moving in the right direction ”
The Government Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, published in August 2022, set out stringent targets to protect people and the environment, backed up by up to £56 billion capital investment – the largest infrastructure programme in water company history. In April it was announced that this will be enshrined further in law through the Environment Act 2021. This will be backed by existing separate interim milestones for bathing waters and high priority nature sites.
The targets in the Plan provide an achievable, realistic route to tackling sewage and delivering the improvements customers expect without disproportionately impacting consumer bills. Alongside the plan, the government published a detailed economic assessment.
This builds on requirements already set out:
- The requirement for all storm overflows to be fitted with monitors by the end of 2023. 91% currently have them fitted, up from only 7% in 2010. It is as a result of this monitoring that the government is able to see the extent of what is happening and take action to address it.
- The recent Plan for Water – the government’s five year strategy on water – which includes bringing forward £1.6 billion investment, with £1.1bn specifically on storm overflows
- Proposals for unlimited penalties to be imposed on water companies that break the rules. More than £142 million has already been levied in fines since 2015. As set out earlier this year, money from those fines and penalties will also now be channelled back into the environment.
- The commission from the Secretary of State to ask water companies to provide action plans on every storm overflow by this summer.
- The legally binding targets that already exist through the Environment Act 2021 to cut 80% of total phosphorus pollution from sewage treatment plants by 2038.