Environment Bill: Sewage and Storm Outflows - November 2021

Dear Constituent,

Thank you for your email regarding the Environment Bill and with particular regard to the amendments regarding storm overflow and untreated sewage discharges.

As you may be aware, I did not support the Government in the vote on the amendment on the 20th October.  I have previously supported my colleague, Philip Dunne MP with his efforts for a Private Members Bill last session and following that vote, I worked with him to achieve progress on this issue.

After last month’s vote, I joined with Philip Dunne to urge the government to make further comprises to enable greater progress to be made.  I remained hopeful that the government would bring forward such a compromise amendment that could be supported. I was therefore pleased that earlier an enhanced compromise emerged with an amendment to the Bill which was announced by the Government- Environment Bill further strengthened to tackle storm overflows - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk), and which contains the provisions which many have been calling for.

I have been disappointed by the campaign responses by some environmental pressure groups and by a concerted effort at misinformation both about the government’s intentions and the current status of storm overflows and untreated sewage discharges.  For example, some have suggested that this bill will for the first time permit discharge of untreated sewage from storm overflows whereas in reality this already occurs and the debate is about how far to restrict current practices.

I am pleased that it has been possible to make progress on this issue and that this new amendment will set out the Government’s expectations that water companies must take steps to reduce storm overflows. That instruction will now be placed on an enhanced legal footing.

I think that it is also worth reiterating the other measures in the Environment Bill relating to this which are designed to ensure the stronger protections that we all seek:

  • a new duty directly on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans, setting out how they will manage and develop their drainage and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning horizon, including how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans.
  • a power of direction for the government to direct water companies in relation to the actions in these Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans. Ministers have been clear that they will not hesitate to use this power of direction if plans are not good enough.
  •  a new duty on Government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows
  •  a requirement for government to produce a report setting out the actions that would be needed to eliminate discharges from storm overflows in England, and the costs and benefits of those actions. Both publications are required before 1 September 2022.
  •  a new duty directly on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.
  •  a new duty directly on water companies to publish near real time information on the operation of storm overflows.
  •  a new duty directly on water companies to monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works.

As a result of the improvements set out above, I voted to make these improved provisions during the vote on the 8th November. As indicated above, I did not support the Government’s initial position on this as I thought that it could go further but I accepted the Government’s revised amendment in lieu of the Duke of Wellington’s amendment and the Minister’s explanation for this: “Turning back to the specific amendment from the Duke of Wellington, we have redrafted it to ensure that it has proper legal effect and there is more effective implementation, and we have gone further in places. I have had much discussion with the Duke of Wellington —I greatly respect and value that—and I would like to clarify a number of points. This amendment places a clear legal duty on water companies to deliver improvements —something that the Duke particularly pressed for. Indeed, ours is a stronger duty than in his wording. Our amendment will ensure that they have to take the necessary steps relative to the size of the problem. We have taken the “progressive” reduction wording from the Lords amendment. “Progressive” means that water companies must continue to take action even after the next price review period and even after they have achieved a significant reduction and tackled high-priority sites, as required in the draft policy statement to the regulator, Ofwat.”

Thank you for getting in touch.

Sincerely,

Richard Fuller