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Guildford’s MP Defends Government On Sewage Discharge Into Rivers

Published on: 31 Oct, 2021
Updated on: 31 Oct, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

Against a background of 27 untreated sewage discharges into the River Wey at Slyfield lasting 346 hours in 2020, Guildford’s MP Angela Richardson said the Environment Bill was “one of the most progressive and green bills ever to go before Parliament”.

But around 70 protesters on the town bridge today (Saturday, October 30) were unconvinced that government measures were sufficient. John Kelly from Peasmarsh said he paddle boarded in the river with his children. He attended the protest because he was concerned with the river water quality and said: “The river is an awesome resource. I want to know it is safe.”

Around 70 people gathered on the town bridge in a protest against sewage discharges into the rivers.

Margaret Morley from Shalford was “disgusted” that sewage continued to be allowed to be pumped into rivers. She said: “The government is lowering standards just to save money for water company shareholders.”

John Kelly wanted the river to be safe for swimming and paddle boarding.

The Environment Bill debated in the House of Commons this week aimed to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution, restore wildlife, and protect the climate. An amendment which sought to impose a legal duty on water companies not to pump sewage into rivers was voted down by the government. But after a social media outcry and a rebellion by 22 Tory backbenchers, there was a partial climb down when the government decided to include legal requirements to show a reduction in sewage overspills over the next five years.

Zoe Franklin, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Guildford & Cranleigh, said that the government’s proposals did not solve the problem, they were “not fast enough or go far enough.”

Sam Peters from the Green Party joined the cross party protest organised by the Liberal Democrats.

In a letter to Mrs Richardson, Mrs Franklin said: “across the constituency rainwater mixed with raw sewage was discharged into local watercourses for a total of 1,789 hours over the course of 192 incidents in 2020.

“It is appalling that water companies continue to get away with this practice rather than being compelled by government and law to undertake work to upgrade our ageing sewage network and protect our precious rivers and coastal waters.”

Data from The Rivers Trust showing numbers of sewage storm discharges from the Thames Water outfall at the Guildford sewage treatment works (STW) in 2020.

The latest data available on the Environment Agency (EA) website show the River Wey from Shalford to the River Thames was classed as “moderate” for ecological factors and failed on 4 out of 16 measures tested in 2019 for chemical contaminates for the first time since 2013.

Classification by the Environment Agency for the years 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019. It was classed as “Fail” in 2019.

An EA spokesperson said: “Storm overflows are designed to discharge sewage to rivers or the sea only at times of heavy rainfall to prevent it backing up into homes and streets.

“However higher population and climate change means storm overflows will discharge more often. The Environment Agency is therefore working actively with water companies to monitor discharges to reduce the harm they do to the environment.”

Chair of the Guildford Environmental Forum Alastair Atkinson said: “Discharging raw sewage into rivers is a 19th-century solution and is completely unacceptable in the 21st century. The country needs the rivers to be clean to support the needs of both humans and wildlife. We need to stop this practice.”

Protester sign on the town bridge today (October 30).

In an open letter to Mrs Richardson, Brian Creese from the  Guildford Labour Party expressed “disappointment” that she had voted against the amendment to make “private water companies legally responsible for any sewage or waste pumped into rivers.”.

He said: “There is clearly already cause for alarm regarding the state of our rivers, and it would be a gross miscalculation for us not to take action to improve them.

“You have previously stated that “The preservation of our environment and biodiversity has to be top of the agenda […] in Guildford”. In light of this, voting against this amendment seems extraordinarily hypocritical.”

Angela Richardson MP

In a statement to The Dragon, Angela Richardson said they were responding to: “concerns people have about sewage entering the waterways during storm conditions, which has happened for years under all previous governments.

“It is clearly unacceptable for sewage to continue to be discharged into the River Wey at current levels. The government has come forward to bolster the bill by making it a duty of water companies to secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows.

“I would like to see this done by way of heavier investment into sewage infrastructure by water companies in the years ahead. I’ve been actively engaging with Thames Water and others about water infrastructure ever since I was elected through casework and chairing various flood forums throughout the constituency.”

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “It’s our view that discharges of untreated sewage are simply unacceptable, even when they are legally permitted, and we’ll work with the government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency to accelerate work to stop them being necessary.

“The plans for the new Guildford sewage works is an example of upgrading of our infrastructure to accommodate growth, cope with the impacts of climate change and enhance the environment.”

Tom Hunt (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) said “I wonder how many people would choose Thames Water as their water supplier now.”

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Responses to Guildford’s MP Defends Government On Sewage Discharge Into Rivers

  1. Andrew Eacott Reply

    October 31, 2021 at 4:30 pm

    If Mrs Richardson thinks it is clearly unacceptable for raw sewage to continue to be discharged into the River Wey, I’m confused why she voted to continue allowing it along with her Conservative colleagues.

    Does it really take a massive outcry on social media and elsewhere for the government to do the right thing?

    • Sam Peters Reply

      October 31, 2021 at 6:11 pm

      Unfortunately, they won’t even go so far as to “do the right thing” – the closest they’ve got so far is a partial u-turn that only obliges water companies to ‘show a reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges over the next five years.

      Given the enormous increase in sewage dumping and other pollutants in our rivers we’ve seen over their tenure, the government’s lifting of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 in September and giving polluters the green light to dump untreated sewage into rivers and the sea, thanks to a lack of treatment chemicals due to Brexit – just “showing a reduction over five years” is simply not good enough.

      As usual, all spin and no action is the only response we get from our MP and her party in government. Unfortunately even this useless response is a step up from what she originally tried to do, which was to call any criticism of her vote “politically motivated” and claim it was based on untruths and misunderstandings.

      Presumably, real constituents wouldn’t mind their rivers being full of sewage and other pollutants, so anyone complaining about her voting for that must be politicking?

      Sam Peters is a spokesperson for The Green Party

      • J Shepperd Reply

        November 1, 2021 at 11:59 pm

        Roughly forty years ago the water industry was removed from public ownership and privatised. We were assured we would benefit from investment in the ageing Victorian infrastructure.

        But that investment didn’t happen; rather the money was given straight to shareholders. Government MPs claim that huge investment costs somehow justify dumping raw sewage into clean water.

        It’s time for the shareholder investment we were promised, all those years ago.

  2. Jacob Allen Reply

    October 31, 2021 at 5:58 pm

    If only there was an alternative party at the last election which was committed to nationalising the water companies…

    Jacob Allen is a Labour Party campaigner

  3. Peta Malthouse Reply

    November 1, 2021 at 6:18 am

    I found an interesting article from 2017 here

    It seems we were not that good when we were still part of the EU, one year after the referendum. If this Environment Bill was supposed to replace the legislation we lost as a result of leaving the EU then I wonder what other provisions have been ‘watered down’?

  4. Mike Dent Reply

    November 1, 2021 at 6:48 am

    Angela Richardson has never voted in the interests of her constituents – just take a look at her voting record since being elected.

    She consistently votes against climate change and environmental protection measures because she just does what the Tory Government tell her.

    This appalling decision to vote in favour of sewage discharge is just the latest example.

  5. John Kelly Reply

    November 1, 2021 at 10:07 am

    Angela Richardson said the government was responding to: “concerns people have about sewage entering the waterways during storm conditions, which has happened for years under all previous governments.”

    But the Conservatives have formed the government for the past 10 years?

  6. Susan Fox Reply

    November 1, 2021 at 4:26 pm

    I’ve given up contacting her because I don’t want my inbox polluted with Conservative Party handouts.

    The MP for a constituency is supposed to represent all their constituents not just their party – Sir David Amess, of whom I was not a fan, was a good MP, as were Ms Richardson’s predecessors here in Guildford.

    I have worked for ministers of different political persuasions and I was a councillor. I found that the ministers and my fellow councillors always tried to represent all those who approached them.

    Susan Fox is a former borough councillor

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