Following public outcry, the Government performed a partial U-turn on sewage discharge. But only partial – the measures implemented are too vague. Labour says the questions are not difficult and the Government needs to step up and take immediate action.
Gareth Wright and Anna Stevenson, Executive members of SE Cambs Labour have written again to Lucy Frazer asking her to encourage the Government to take tough action on the water companies and to give environmental legislation real teeth.
Anna Stevenson said “With COP26 very much on all of our minds, we must make sure that nature and habitats are protected and species saved from extinction. Our rivers are suffocating under raw sewage, which not only means poo and tissue, it means plastic pollution too.”
Gareth Wright added “The new Office of Environmental Protection has been watered down so much, it’s more of a Government lapdog than the strong watchdog we need. Pollution is a direct cause of ill health and shortened life spans. The Government must take this seriously.”
The open letter to Lucy Frazer is as follows;
Dear Lucy Frazer
Thank you for your reply to our recent letter about raw sewage in our local rivers. (Your ref: LF51876).
We are concerned that you do not seem to recognise the urgency and importance of the issue.
This is an environmental scandal. Every English river is in an unhealthy condition. In the last year alone, raw sewage was discharged into UK rivers and seas over 400,000 times. England has the worst river quality in Europe.
The new Environment Act is a missed opportunity. Despite taking over a thousand days to pass through Parliament, it does not go far enough on cleaning up our dirty air, getting the sewage out of our rivers or protecting our natural habitats.
The amendments to which you refer are vague. They have the loose aim of ‘progressive reduction’ in sewage discharges. We have no idea what that means, do you?
You refer to new power of direction, which will enable the Government to direct water companies if the plans do not go far enough. Can you clarify what ‘far enough’ means? And when would the Government step-in to require changes?
We urge you to rethink this and to encourage your Cabinet colleagues to take immediate action. We need higher fines for polluting water companies, proper annual parliamentary scrutiny of Defra, Ofwat, the Environment Agency and the water companies so they can’t hide their inaction.
You refer to the overall costs of making improvements. Yes, we have Victorian sewers. But this is not something we just discovered! That the sewers were ageing and in need of repair was known at the time a Conservative Government decided to sell-off our water companies.
That many of these companies are now owned by finance houses and hedge funds is an indication of how much money their owners know they can make out of them. Anglian Water is owned by The Osprey Consortium that comprises pension fund and long-term infrastructure investors and fund managers. It is registered in Jersey meaning lower regulations on transparency.
You refer to estimates of how much it will cost to make the improvements that have been ignored for so long by the water companies.
It’s worth looking at where the money they make is going. Billions have been paid out in dividends since privatisation and director pay has soared. The highest paid director of Anglian Water Group received £1.7m last year. Up 55% from £1.1m the previous year. As well as more than doubling the long-term incentives benefits, now standing at £391k, that’s 15 times the average pay for one of your Ely constituents.
We would stop shareholders taking billions in profits each year from companies until they rapidly reduce sewage discharge and start cleaning up our rivers and seas.
We need a clear plan on how much discharge of raw human sewage would be stopped, and by when. These should not be difficult questions.
Anna Stevenson and Gareth Wright
South East Cambs Labour Executive Committee
Anglian Water Group accounts