I’m sure many people across Tameside would have seen the grim news of sewage discharge warnings being issued at more than 40 beaches across England and Wales after heavy rain overwhelmed the sewage system.
Unfortunately, raw sewage discharge has become more common over the last decade. Recent analysis has shown that over the last six years, there have been at least 1,261,498 sewage spill events. That means that on average, water companies are spilling sewage into our waters every two-and-a-half-minutes.
United Utilities, the water company that provides services in the North West, recorded 81,000 monitored spill events last year alone. The River Tame is one of the most polluted waterways in the world, with a key source of pollution coming from untreated wastewater.
These figures are disgusting and totally unacceptable, and I simply cannot understand why the Government aren’t doing more to clamp down on water companies pumping sewage into our waterways. Earlier this year, I met with the Minister in charge of Nature Recovery and the Domestic Environment to press her to do more, but there seems to be a real lack of urgency on the part of the Government.
Back in 2021, Labour voted to change the Environment Bill to stop companies dumping raw sewage into British rivers and coastal waters. Inexplicably, the Government blocked this change, effectively enabling water companies to continue this practise with no repercussions. Unfortunately, the vile images we have seen after the last few weeks are the consequences of the Government’s inaction.
We can’t sit back and let companies destroy our precious waterways. It’s time to act, and act robustly. That means toughening up regulations, holding water company bosses legally and financially accountable for their negligence, and putting a stop to loopholes that mean companies can wriggle out of their responsibilities.
Unless we take action, this crisis will only get worse. We’ve reached this point because of poor planning and infrastructure neglect. Back in 2016 (under the ‘watchful’ eye of a certain Liz Truss) the Tories slashed £235m from the Environment Agency’s budget, effectively hampering the department’s ability to monitor and protect waterways. A short-sighted decision has had catastrophic consequences.
We can’t afford more complacency and mismanagement. It’s time to clean up this Government’s mess, and make sure that we protect our waterways and beaches for generations to come.