Thank you to all those who have emailed concerning the Environment Bill which we are working on as it makes its way towards being law. As part of that process, both Houses of Parliament can propose amendments to the Bill, and last week we considered amendments suggested by the House of Lords. You can read the Hansard transcript of the debate on these two links:
I did support most of Amendment 45 from the Lords, but I was concerned about clause 141A, lines 7-14, which sought to place a new duty on sewage companies to demonstrate reductions in discharges of untreated sewage. This clause had no impact assessment or suggestion of how it can be delivered, which is needed if we are to produce effective legislation. If we had passed this clause, it would have cost bill-payers between £150-650 billion, because of all the costs of the work to transform remaining Victorian sewage systems. It would mean a complete separation of surface and storm drains from actual sewer systems. It would also cause significant disruption for homes, businesses and infrastructure. Instead of this part of the amendment, we passed a comprehensive package of measures that are achievable and will bring an end to sewage discharges quickly.
Last year, we set up the Storm Overflows Task force to bring all the key stakeholders together from the water companies, environment NGOs and regulators in order to eliminate discharges from storm overflows. This is reflected in the Environment Bill’s legally-binding requirement to report with costs and benefits by 1 September 2022.
Outside the Bill itself, we have been working with OFWAT and producing a draft Strategic Policy Statement putting storm sewage overflows at the top of the agenda. This states, for the first time, that we expect water companies to take steps to ‘significantly reduce… storm overflows’ and that we expect funding to be approved for them to do so. The Environment Bill is still being amended and is going back to the Lords on Tuesday, so please let me know if you have any further concerns but please be assured that we are addressing the discharges of untreated sewage but making sure that the legislation is tightly worded to ensure that it works.
I completely understand that people may find think that the proposal we voted on last week is a delay, but we have to pass legislation that is effective. Everyone is determined to stop any further pollution of our rivers and coastal seas, I am a keen sea swimmer like many others so have a vested interest. All the Hampshire MPs and myself are working together to put pressure on Southern Water to stop further discharges of untreated effluent into the Solent.
Water companies are already investing £3.1bn in storm overflow improvements and I keep in close contact with Southern Water to ensure that they are protecting our environment in Meon Valley. I recently heard from the company’s Chief Executive, Ian McAuley, who updated me on Southern Water’s plans to invest over £500m in improvements to protect the environment. This includes millions of Pounds of investment directly in Meon Valley itself, and plans to upgrade water treatment works to improve the water quality in the River Meon. Southern Water’s total investment package over the years 2020-2025 totals around £3.8 billion.
It is important to note that many sources of waste which get into the seas come directly from private outfalls or leaching directly from private land into seawater or rivers – the water companies are not the only issue. Our Environment Bill aims to tackle the whole range of threats from pollution, and I will continue to support it as it goes through Parliament.