‘We must stop raw sewage being pumped into our rivers’, says Tony Lloyd MP

Rochdale MP, Tony Lloyd, has slammed Conservative Government Ministers for their ‘reckless disregard for public safety’ after they forced their own MPs to vote against measures to end the routine discharge of raw sewage into rivers and seas.

Tony said,
 “In Rochdale, United Utilities was responsible for 32 reported sewage overflows in 2020, which lasted on average for 6.8 hours.

“That is, quite frankly, outrageous and it’s equally outrageous that the Tory Government appears to be showing a reckless disregard for public safety for failing to prevent this from happening again. I sat through the whole of the debate on this issue. Many Tory MPs knew the Government’s position was wrong, but sat on their hands. Crocodile tears are not enough, we need action and we need action now.

“This has serious and damaging implications for precious river habitats for marine life, birds and mammals, and it makes our rivers unsafe to swim in.

“People across Rochdale want our local rivers to be free from raw sewage. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.”

Data from the Rivers Trust shows that in the North West, United Utilities were responsible for 2,273 reported sewage overflows in 2020.

In Rochdale, there were a total number of 32 storm overflows counted over 1,525 individual spills from water treatment works in the area.

Luke Pollard MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, added, “People are right to be upset at the dreadful state of England’s rivers.

“Not one English river is in a healthy condition and there has been zero improvement since 2016. The Government is to blame for allowing water companies to vent raw sewage into our rivers and seas seemingly at will.

“The Conservatives should urgently U-turn on their decision to block the Environment Bill amendment so that water companies are forced to reduce the amount of sewage they pump into our rivers and seas.

“The millions of pounds which go to shareholders do nothing to help with cleaning up our rivers and seas.

“The Tories should learn from the record and experience of the Welsh Labour government who have been able to require sustainable drainage systems to reduce the load on sewage systems and make investing to tackle future challenges a top priority.”

In the last year alone, raw sewage was discharged into UK rivers and seas over 400,000 times. There were 2,941 discharges into UK coastal bathing waters during the May-September bathing season alone, severely impacting coastal communities. The UK is ranked last in the EU for bathing water quality. None of our rivers are in a healthy condition, with none meeting good chemical standards and only 14% meeting good ecological standards.

In the recent series of votes on the Environment Bill, Tony Lloyd and other Labour MPs voted to end the routine discharge of raw sewage into rivers and seas. Conservative MPs were whipped to vote against the cross-party amendment tabled by the Duke of Wellington in the House of Lords. The amendment was defeated and raw sewage can continue to be discharged into rivers as a result.

The amendment to ban the release of raw sewage has now returned to the House of Lords, and MPs are expected to vote on the proposal to end sewage discharges again in the coming weeks.


Notes for editors:-

• Not one English river is in a healthy condition, with 0% meeting good chemical standards and only 14% meeting good ecological standards – England has the worst river quality in Europe, with the percentage of waterways reaching good ecological standards unchanged since 2016.
• Recent research has found that unlawful discharge of sewage into waterways could be up to ten times more than the rate Environment Agency prosecutions suggests.
• From 2009- 2019, Environment Agency water quality samples fell by 45% and the number of sampling points by 40.6%, and the total budget for Environment Agency prosecutions has fallen by 58%.
• Research by The Guardian has found that raw sewage was discharged into rivers across England and Wales 200,000 times in 2019, for a total duration of 1.5 million hours. This rose in 2020 to over 400,000 separate occasions dumping sewage into the environment.
• Only last week Southern Water were dumping sewage at 60 different locations along the south coast of England. Southern Water was recently fined an unprecedented £90m for deliberately venting sewage into the sea – after committing 168 previous offences.
• The Environment Agency currently relies on water companies to self-monitor discharges from combined sewer overflows. In these self-reports, the frequency or duration of overflow events is recorded but not the environmental impact, making management of waterways and enforcement of existing rules more difficult.