Fringe Box



Lib Dems Suggest a Sewage Tax to Deter Dumping into Rivers

Published on: 1 Apr, 2022
Updated on: 2 Apr, 2022

Wild swimmers and other users of the River Wey may face increased risks owing to sewage contamination.

By Martin Giles

“It’s disgusting” is the way Guildford’s Parliamentary Lib Dem candidate has described the amount of sewage “dumped” into local waterways, according to new data released yesterday (March 31).

It showed, say the Lib Dems, that in the Guildford constituency sewage was drained or pumped into local rivers on 115 occasions for a total of 898 hours.

Guildford’s Conservative MP hit back saying the way Lib Dem MPs voted in November was the real scandal and improvement measures “have to be deliverable”.

The latest data was published as the government announced what it said was the largest overhaul of the sewer system since the 1990s to tackle the problem of discharges.

The government said the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan was a step-change in how water companies tackled the number of discharges of untreated sewage, which the government and the public have made clear are unacceptable. The plan aims to eliminate 40 per cent of raw sewage overflows into rivers by 2040.

But all opposition parties that commented agreed that more should be done and quickly.

Zoe Franklin

Explaining her position, Ms Franklin said: “It is disgusting that sewage has been allowed to flow into our local watercourses for nearly 900 hours in 2021. These are our rivers and streams where people paddle and kayak, walk alongside and allow our beloved dogs to swim.

“Of course, this is being repeated across the country with sewage dumped into rivers 370,000 times last year. It is a national scandal.

“The government is letting water companies get away with polluting our rivers and poisoning animals for decades to come. Now the public is expected to foot the bill for cleaning up this mess despite water companies raking in multi-billion pound profits.

“Why aren’t government ministers listening to the public’s understandable outrage about this?

“The government needs to get tough on water companies, including local provider Thames Water, to end this disgraceful practice. A Sewage Tax should also be introduced to make water companies pay for cleaning up our rivers.”

Angela Richardson MP

But Angela Richardson the Conservative MP for Guildford said: “It is a national scandal that the Liberal Democrats voted in November last year against a government amendment to place a legal duty on water companies, including Thames Water, to clean up rivers. Even the Lib Dem leader voted against.

“The River Wey is a precious asset for Guildford and I support measures that prevent pollution. But those measures also have to be deliverable otherwise they are of little worth.

“This government has done more than any other to address the issue of pollution in rivers, something made harder by opposition parties voting against amendments that would mean cleaner waterways.”

See: Guildford’s MP Defends Government On Sewage Discharge Into Rivers

Mark Bray-Parry, speaking for The Green Party, said: “The attitudes of both the government and water companies towards the dumping of sewage into our rivers, including the Wey, is shameful. Since the water companies were privatised without debt in the 1990s, water companies have managed to build up a £50 billion debt while paying out more than £72 billion to overseas investors.

Mark Bray-Parry

“Despite the government taking note four years ago of the “sophisticated financial engineering” that these companies use to pay no tax, yet pay billions to investors, nothing has been done about it.

“Now, despite the fact that the water companies have reduced the investment into key infrastructure by 20 per cent from when they were first privatised, we are being told that the cost to reduce the dumping of sewage into our rivers will be funded through an increase in household water bills. The fact that the government finds this acceptable in the midst of the cost of living crisis shows a complete disregard for everyone struggling.

“We’ve now gone way past a sewage tax which will inevitably be passed on to households to fund. The government must recognise that nationalising the water companies is the only way we can simultaneously protect our rivers and household finances in a time of environmental and economic crisis.

“It is time we stop viewing public vs private ownership as socialist vs capitalist and recognise that different situations call for different approaches. Rigid political ideology will be the death of us all.”

The sewage treatment works in Slyfield are planned to move in 2024.

And Cllr John Rigg commenting on behalf of Residents for Guildford and Villages (R4GV) said: “As we said back in November last year when this issue made national headlines, like many others, R4GV is shocked and angered that water companies are discharging so much raw sewage into our rivers, and so frequently.

“The continued inaction of the government is a national scandal. As a local group, we are committed to a cleaner and environmentally safe River Wey, and to this end, R4GV has been driving the Weyside project which includes a new £110 million sewage works, which will be paid for by Guildford Borough Council and will alleviate the issue in Guildford.

“With the recent approval by the Secretary of State that the allotments can be relocated to a superb new allotments site nearby, the main part of the project is able to proceed.”

Ramsey Nagaty of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) said: “We support the main thrust of the Lib Dem suggestion. A tax may be appropriate but fines would be better.

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

“If the water companies continue to pollute then they should lose their franchise and dividends should not be paid until investment is made to upgrade capacity.

“Development on greenfield land reduces the absorption of rainwater by the land during heavy downpours. This increases pressure on the sewage system and leads to decisions by water companies to discharge into rivers and the sea. So we need to look at the wider picture.

“Privatisation was supposed to enable the upgrading of sewers and treatment plants by receiving capital investment. Instead, it appears to boost dividends and senior managers’ pay packets.”

See: Multi-million Pound Profits ‘Disgraceful’ While Sewage Discharges Continue

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Responses to Lib Dems Suggest a Sewage Tax to Deter Dumping into Rivers

  1. Gillian Cox Reply

    April 2, 2022 at 11:53 am

    Our local authorities should insist that all new build houses should have rainwater harvesting systems to collect the rainwater from gutters and store it underground to be used for flushing toilets, the washing machine and an outdoor tap that will supply water for the garden. This would lower the amount of mains water used per household and decrease water run-off caused by the amount of land which used to absorb excess water and is now covered by the concrete used in building the houses.

  2. John Perkins Reply

    April 3, 2022 at 7:55 am

    Lib Dems have only one answer to any issue: higher taxes.

    Gillian Cox provides a more realistic response.

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    April 3, 2022 at 9:30 am

    GBC’s Lib Dem leader in 2019 voted in favour of the adoption of the Local Plan others abstained.

    It proposes to permit 11,000 new houses but says next to nothing about water infrastructure in general or sewage processing capacity in particular. There has been a complete lack of holistic or “joined-up” thinking.

    There needs to be an independent objective assessment of the available sewage processing capacity in the borough.

    The Lib Dems are now running GBC in partnership with R4GV. Indignation will change little. What practical steps are they taking to solve the water problems that they have ignored for decades?

  4. Dave Middleton Reply

    April 3, 2022 at 11:34 am

    All colours of government are as bad as each other on this matter. This type of discharge has been going on for many decades and successive Labour, Conservative and coalition governments have all failed to deal with it.

    None of them can claim any kind of moral high ground on this matter.

    It’s time the various parties stopped sniping at each other and worked together to sort it out.

  5. Martin Elliott Reply

    April 3, 2022 at 11:03 pm

    Like so many matters affecting the public, but already heavily monitored/regulated, does it really need more legislation?

    I believe there are probably enough licences, but a lack of resources to monitor or enforce them.

    Again there is the claim that the present plants are overwhelmed too often. Is that saying, as with the new Slyfield plant, it’s cheaper to pay fines than comply with a permit? Again, you don’t need to add more regulation, just increase fines 10 times or more and use them for more Environment Agency staff, as happened decades ago under Health & Safety at Work legislation.

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