Hundreds of constituents have written to me about the disgusting sewage pollution in our rivers, lakes and seas.
Labour voted to add the strong controls on water companies to the Environment Bill. Like you, I was outraged to see Tory MPs voting against this vital measure. But thanks to pressure from the public and Labour’s Environment team, the government has now agreed to include these protections in the legislation when it comes back to the House of Commons for another vote in coming weeks.
This problem is serious. I recently learnt that raw sewage was discharged into rivers in my Bristol West constituency for 522 hours last year. Sadly this is part of a pattern, with raw sewage is routinely being released into our waterbodies all over the UK.
Last year alone, raw sewage was discharged into UK rivers and seas over 400,000 times – a 37% increase on the year before. England has the worst river quality in Europe, with the percentage of waterways reaching good ecological standards unchanged since 2016. None of our rivers are in a healthy condition, with none meeting good chemical standards and only 14% meeting good ecological standards. Some constituents have told me they have become seriously ill after swimming in the Avon.
Raw sewage in rivers not only makes our rivers unsafe for swimming, but also damages the precious river habitats for marine life, birds and mammals. Beavers were recently successfully reintroduced into a river in the Bristol area. It would be a tragedy if they cannot survive in our polluted rivers.
I’m pleased that the government seems to have changed its position. This change of heart was likely caused by the public backlash and the threat of growing numbers of Tories voting for this protection (22 Tory MPs voted for the amendment). Water companies could now be required by law to show a reduction in sewage overspills over the next five years.
But this partial U-turn is not good enough. We need a government which truly cares about the state of the environment, not just when reacting to public outrage.
The Tories should learn from the Welsh Labour government. In Wales, there is a requirement for water companies to install sustainable drainage systems to reduce the load on sewage systems and also prioritise investment.
Please be assured I will keep the pressure on the government to protect our waters as the Environment Bill goes through the final stages.