The government’s new plan to tackle sewage discharge by 2050 has been branded a “cruel joke” and “a license to pump sewage onto our beaches”.
The Department for the Environment (DEFRA) said on Friday that water companies will need to make £56 billion in capital investments over the next 25 years to stop untreated sewage from entering the UK’s seas and rivers.
There have been growing calls for water company bosses to have their multi-million pound bonuses slashed after outrage how much waste water is pumped into the sea.
Under the plan, companies have until 2035 to improve the management of all wastewater overflows that flow alongside bathing waters and improve 75% of overflows at prime natural sites. By 2050 this applies to all waterways.
The government said it was introducing the “toughest targets ever” to tackle sewage pollution.
But the Lib Dems branded the plan a “cruel joke” and claimed it will result in 325,000 waste water dumps a year by 2030.
The party’s environment spokesman, Tim Farron, said: “This government plan is a license to pump sewage onto our beaches and into our prized rivers and lakes.
“By the time these flimsy targets go into effect, our beaches would be pumped full of disgusting sewage, more otters would be poisoned, and our children would still be swimming in dangerous waters.”
The party claimed the plan will result in taxpayers largely paying for the improvements, even though water company bosses have earned huge bonuses in recent years.
Previous analysis by the party found that the average water executive bonus has increased by a fifth (18%) over the past year and that the average annual water executive bonus is now £670,000.
The document released by DEFRA says there will be no impact on bills until 2025, but it is estimated that annual bills would ultimately increase by £42 over the full period to 2050 compared to current prices.
It comes at a time when households are already feeling the pinch with energy bills set to skyrocket in October after a Record price cap increase of 80%.
“The whole thing stinks”
Mr Farron slammed the decision not to ban bonuses for water company CEOs.
“While they collect the money, we swim in the sewage. The whole thing stinks,” he said.
“The day this cost-of-living crisis reached catastrophic proportions, the government smuggled out this news. They’ve taken the concept of ‘taking out the trash’ to a whole new level.”
Ministers have faced growing calls to take action against water companies for failing to invest in the UK’s aging water infrastructure.
dozens of environmental pollution Warnings were issued for beaches and swimming areas in England and Wales this week after heavy rains overwhelmed the sewage system.
Untreated sewage was dumped into the sea near Bexhill, East Sussex on Wednesday while French MPs said Thursday accused the UK of endangering fishermen’s livelihoods and public health by dumping sewage into the English Channel.
The government said water companies must meet a number of targets so that discharges only occur when there is unusually heavy rainfall and when there is no immediate negative impact on the local environment.
DEFRA said companies that don’t meet their targets will have to refund customers or face fines, stressing that companies cannot benefit from environmental damage.
Environment Secretary George Eustice claimed the UK government was “the first government to take action to end the environmental damage caused by sewage pollution”.
He said: “We will require water companies to protect all who use our water for recreation and ensure storm overflows do not pose a threat to the environment.
“Water companies must invest to stop unacceptable wastewater pollution so our rivers and coastlines are better protected than ever.”
Huge increase in raw sewage being discharged into UK waterways
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“Conservatives have started writing fiction”
However, Labor accused the government of “writing fiction”.
Jim McMahon, Labour’s shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, said the “weak improvement targets” based on last year’s figures will result in a further 4.8 million wastewater accidents in the UK by 2035.
“Britain deserves better than a zombie Tory government happy to see our country being treated like an open sewer,” he said.
“Labour will use the levers of power to hold ruthless water bosses legally and financially accountable and tighten regulations to prevent them from manipulating the system.”
DEFRA said it would review its plan in 2027 to assess “where we can go further”.