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Portsmouth MP doubles down on campaign to end sewage pollution

By 25 November 2022No Comments

Stephen Morgan MP has committed to continue to campaign to end sewage pollution, following the publication of Surfers Against Sewage’s (SAS) annual water quality report.

The report explores the extent to which water companies are spilling sewage into the UK’s waterways including bathing areas and periods with no rainfall. The report also gathers information from members of the public who have fallen ill after entering polluted water.

The findings of the SAS report are shocking with water companies ‘dry spilling’ sewage 146 times into bathing waters this bathing season. Alongside this, bathing waters have been hit 5,504 times by sewage released into England’s bathing waters this summer alone for a duration of 15,012 hours.

Portsmouth South’s Stephen Morgan MP, said:

“Our country’s water system is ageing and at bursting point, with poor planning and neglect of our vital infrastructure. Surfers Against Sewage’s latest water quality report is a shocking reminder of the scale of this problem across the UK’s waterways.

“Portsmouth people should be able to enjoy our city’s superb seaside and areas of natural beauty, without having to worry about encountering filthy sewage.

“I will continue to campaign for mandatory monitoring of all sewage outlets, automatic fines for discharges, and powers to be given to the Environment Agency to properly enforce rules and a legally binding target to end pollution. If water companies continue to damage our environment directors should be struck off, with prison sentences for the most serious offences”.

The city MP has made campaigning to end sewage pollution one of his top priorities. Actions to date have included pressing Ministers to intervene, meeting with relevant organisations, raising concerns in debates in the House of Commons and voting for tough environmental laws in Parliament.

Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary has said being a custodian of water and the environment will be a legal duty again. At the party’s conference in September, Labour set out in government it will:

  • End the scandal of losing a quarter of our water in leaks while declaring water shortages at the same time by putting the target to halve leakage by 2050 on a statutory footing
    • Poor planning, a lack of investment and neglect of our vital infrastructure has left us with a water system that leaks over a trillion tonnes of water every year, and that spills raw sewage hundreds of thousands of times a year into our natural environment.
    • The Leakage Routemap 2050 provides a framework for companies to meet their commitment to triple the rate of leakage reduction by 2030 and halve leakage by 2050.
    • The 2030 target was set out in the 2019 Public Interest Commitment while the 2050 pledge has been endorsed by the National Infrastructure Committee.
    • Labour will put the target to halve leakage by 2050 on a statutory footing. We will also work with water companies, regulators, and the National Infrastructure Commission to explore the viability of accelerating these plans to also support decarbonisation efforts.
  • Introduce mandatory monitoring of all sewage outlets, automatic fines for discharges, and a standing charge penalty for discharge points failing to meet monitoring requirements
    • Ofwat is the economic regulator for the water industry in England and Wales. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Government set the policy and legislative framework in England and Wales, respectively.
    • The Environment Agency is responsible for monitoring of water sewage. Ordinarily, it grants permits to water companies to use the storm overflows during periods of exceptional weather, when rain enters the combined sewers and causes spills from storm overflows when capacity is exceeded.
    • A Labour Party FOI has revealed there were at least 1,261,498 sewage discharge events between 2016 and 2021 (approximately 400,000 in 2021), which equates to a discharge taking place every two-and-a-half minutes.
    • The scale of the problem is likely to be even greater, with monitoring not yet taking place at every discharge point, academic research showing that unlawful discharge of sewage into waterways could be up to ten times higher, and a recent investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches revealing that water firms are illegally dumping sewage through more than 870 discharge pipes without permits.
    • Fines and penalties for breaching regulations are too easily built into the operating costs of water companies and do not reflect the environmental damage caused by repeated sewage pollution, which is why the regulators have called for greater powers.
    • This coupled with weak enforcement from underfunded and under resourced regulators means that there is no effective driver to change behaviour.
    • Labour will demand the mandatory installation of ‘Event Duration Monitoring’ equipment at every discharge point, including discharge points that have not been licensed to monitor any illegal/non licensed discharge events.
    • Monitoring and data collection will be overseen by the regulator rather than the current self-reporting. Environment Agency estimate that water companies are only reporting 77% of events, which highlights that the current system is open to abuse.
    • Having pledged to introduce unlimited fines, Labour will immediately introduce automatic fines for each spillage event that occurs, with a system developed to prevent prolonged discharges taking place instead.
    • An example of blanket fines around £5,000 per sewage spillage would raise up to £1.8 billion in the first year (on average water companies pay out £2 billion per year in dividends) if water companies were to reduce spillage by 15% in the same period.
    • Labour will also introduce a standing charge, for any sewage discharge point that fails to have the required monitoring equipment. The charge will be a fixed rate, that is paid for every day that required monitoring equipment is not in place.
  • Give the Environment Agency the power to properly enforce the rules
    • The Environment Agency is responsible for monitoring of water sewage. Ordinarily, it grants permits to water companies to use the storm overflows during periods of exceptional weather, when rain enters the combined sewers and causes spills from storm overflows when capacity is exceeded.
    • Labour will work in partnership with regulators to establish, update and strengthen guidance in setting the parameters in which regulators should operate and act. Improvements to reporting, greater transparency and increased powers will help regulators to learn the full extent of pollution, law-breaking, poor practice, and act.
  • Introduce a legally binding target to end 90% of sewage discharges by 2030 
  • Recent Labour Party analysis has shown that over the last six years, there have been at least 1,261,498 sewage spill events. This means that on average, the Tories have allowed water companies to spill sewage onto our beaches and into our waters every two-and-a-half minutes.
  • Having voted to progressively eliminate and end the dumping of sewage during the Environment Bill in 2021, Labour will immediately impose and legally enforce a 90% reduction target in sewage discharge by 2030.
    • If a Labour government were to be elected in 2024, water companies would be required to achieve a 15% yearly reduction in the number of spillages and duration of spillages, to meet a target to end 90% of sewage discharges by 2030.
  • Ensure that if companies fail to improve, the cost will be paid for by eroding dividends, not adding to customer bills, or hitting vital investment in the system
    • The Tories have allowed water firms to get away scot-free, rewarding failure by allowing water bosses to bank millions in salary and bonus payments, without delivering for the public good.
    • Water companies have consistently put executive bonus and shareholder dividends ahead of environmental performance. Analysis by the University of Greenwich has shown that in the 30-year period after the water industry was privatised, companies amassed debts of £48bn whist paying out £57bn in shareholder dividends.
    • Separate analysis recently revealed that executives at England’s water and sewage firms earned £48million in 2020 and 2021, including £27.6million in bonuses, benefits, and incentives.
    • Ofwat has suggested linking performance to pay. If water companies and bosses are not meeting legally enforceable leak and sewage reduction targets, bonuses and dividend payments would be impacted.
    • Ofwat has the power to cap customer bills. Labour will ensure this is used so customers are not paying the price of failure.
    • Labour will explore re-writing the licenses of water companies to prevent companies taking on significant amounts of debt and prevent them from becoming financially unviable.
  • Labour will strike off company directors who are persistent offenders, so they cannot simply delete ‘illegal environmental damage’ from their CV and move on to their next role
    • Labour will introduce powers as requested by regulators, to strike off company directors and Chief Executives for persistent offences and failures to meet targets.
    • We will end the situation where company directors can effectively delete ‘illegal al environmental damage’ from their CVs and move onto another role with no consequences for their actions.
  • Labour will ensure stronger legal and financial sanctions for failing to meet regulatory requirements
    • The Environment Agency has called for prison sentences for Chief Executives and board members who are responsible for the most serious (Category One) incidents.
    • Labour will ensure that the law is enforced and directors face legal ramifications which could include prison sentences for the most serious offences of dumping sewage through pipes which are unlicensed.