You may have read stories in certain publications concerning a Lords vote on sewage discharge which Conservative Members, including Scott Mann, voted against.
Although it is quite lengthy, Scott felt it was important to fully respond in detail to concerns about this:
Thanks to the efforts of MPs and campaign groups, the Government has moved considerably on the issue of sewage and storm overflows. Sewerage undertakers will now be required to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans setting out how the company will manage and develop its drainage and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning horizon and how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans.
I have supported amendments to the Bill at Committee Stage in the House of Lords that will require the government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from overflows and the harm they cause, and to report regularly to Parliament on progress. I also backed further amendments at Report stage that will place new duties on water companies to require them to report overflows in near real time, and to monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of an overflow and of sewage disposal works. The Government have now also agreed to publish a report before 1st September 2022 explaining the actions needed to eliminate storm overflows including their costs and benefits. This report will provide Parliament, the public and the water industry with up-front, clear, and comprehensive information on the feasibility and cost of elimination. These are good steps in the right direction that will have direct benefits for our local environment in North Cornwall and are the result of the efforts of MPs working with campaign groups like Surfers Against Sewage and others.
The Lords did add an additional amendment more recently on this subject, and I was one of several hundred MPs who voted against it. This is because the age of our sewerage system means that the complete elimination of storm overflows would be extremely challenging. Initial estimates of the work necessary to achieve this are in the region of £150 billion. To put that in perspective, that is more than the entire budget of the NHS. Faced with this cost, I could not support the more recent Lords Amendment and I hope you will understand why.
More widely, I am encouraged that between 2020 and 2025, water companies will invest £3.1 billion in storm overflow improvements to reduce sewage discharges to our waters. This includes £1.9bn investment on the Thames Tideway Tunnel super sewer, as well as £1.2bn of other investments throughout England. £144m of this is new, additional investment because of a call to action from the Storm Overflows Taskforce.
I am especially pleased by the progress we have made because some of what the Government has promised to do in the Environment Bill was suggested in my bill, the Bathing Waters Bill, that I presented to the House back in 2018. This includes ensuring that overflows are monitored all year round and reported in near real time. Similarly, many of the recommendations made by my colleague Phillip Dunne in his Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill that aim to protect our inland waterways have been adopted by the Government.
I think the measures in the Environment Bill are now an acceptable compromise that have the potential to be built on in future, and I am proud to give the amended Bill my wholehearted support. I want to thank the organisations and campaign groups that have worked with MPs throughout this process, and the Government for being receptive to so many policy suggestions. It is important that we use these changes to monitor incidents and the behaviour of water companies, and I am confident that the Government and community groups around the country will be doing so.
Going forward, I think there is more work to be done on household and commercial rainwater recycling. For example, fitting an average size 250 litre water butt to every one of the approximately 25 million dwellings in England would prevent many billions of litres of rainwater flowing into our sewage system, reducing overflows during heavy rain, and providing households with free water to use in gardening or cleaning. These types of measures might seem small, but when scaled up across the entire country they can make a difference. I plan to push for better regulations around rainwater recycling in the upcoming Planning Bill.