Philip Dunne MP launches new Bill to tackle river pollution

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Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow, has today published his Private Member’s Bill designed to tackle river pollution from untreated sewage and improve water quality.

Philip Dunne MP
Philip Dunne MP

In 2019, raw sewage was discharged into rivers across England and Wales for over 1.5 million hours, compromising these vital habitats for wildlife and endangering the health of people who use our rivers for recreation.

Philip Dunne MP, who is also chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: 

“Our rivers are a vital part of our natural heritage. It is right the Government has committed to restoring at least three quarters of our waters to their natural state.

“But it is clear from last week’s latest assessment from the Environment Agency that we are a long way from achieving that, with fewer than one in six of our rivers in good health. This threatens the aquatic life and iconic species that rely on these precious habitats, such as freshwater fish, kingfishers, otters and dippers.

“The discharge of untreated sewage is a major part of the problem, entering our rivers from the very treatment works whose purpose is to clean it up. Our regulations and investment have not kept pace with changes in behaviour and pressure from development, so now pollutants enter our rivers untreated, with the perpetrators licensed to spill.

“This poses a significant health risk to those who wish to enjoy our rivers for leisure and recreation.

“The River Severn and its tributaries the Clun, Corve, Kemp, Onny, Rea, Teme and Worfe all flow through my constituency. They are nothing like as healthy as when I was a child, but they should be.

“That is why I have brought forward this Bill, which aims to cut discharges of raw sewage into our rivers – protecting our precious habitats for wildlife and people to enjoy.”

The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill places a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers and other inland waters. The Bill will require water companies to set out plans progressively to reduce their reliance on combined sewer overflows (CSOs). It proposes increasing levels of transparency, as firms will be mandated to report publicly not just on the frequency and extent of sewage discharges from CSOs and any other sewer catchment assets, but also on the impact on water quality as this is enabled by advances in technology.

The Bill also proposes measures to upgrade drainage infrastructure to separate household sewage from surface water drainage, helping reduce the risk of overspills. It includes measures to reduce harmful products such as non-biodegradable wet wipes, commercial fats and oils from being disposed down the drains. It also proposes measures to expand the number of inland bathing waters and establish targets to increase those classified as “good” or “excellent”.

The Bill has widespread support from environmental charities and NGOs, Mark Lloyd, CEO of the Rivers Trust said: “We are very grateful to Philip Dunne MP for taking on this very important issue with such vigour after The Rivers Trust raised it with him earlier this year.  We hope that this Bill will be converted into legislation urgently.  Changing weather patterns, population growth, more plastic items being flushed down toilets and an historic lack of investment in infrastructure all conspire to cause raw sewage to pollute our precious rivers far too often.  We need to get a grip of this wicked problem and make our water environment a place that inspires delight, rather than disgust.”

Ali Morse, Water Policy Manager at The Wildlife Trusts and chair of environmental coalition Blueprint for Water said: “This Bill could be the driving force behind big changes to benefit people and wildlife, encouraging water companies to implement more ‘nature-based’ solutions to protect our waterways. These include purpose-built ponds to capture rainwater, stopping it from overwhelming sewers and releasing raw sewage into rivers. Regulators and Government must ensure water companies prioritise these measures. Customers want to see this too. People expect rivers to be clean enough to swim in, and healthy enough to support thriving wildlife.” 

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