In Parliament yesterday, I was pleased to vote in favour of an amendment to the Environment Bill to cut the dumping of raw sewage into waterways via storm overflows.
The amendment will legally require water companies to progressively reduce sewage discharges to protect the environment and public health.
It builds on the existing measures in the Bill:
It requires water companies to produce a five-year plan to reduce and fund reductions in sewage discharges.
It empowers the Government to direct companies to act if their plan is not good enough.
It establishes the Office of Environmental Protection to hold firms to account.
This sensible amendment will strengthen the Environment Bill, unlike the controversial proposal Parliament rejected a few weeks ago. Some wrongly claimed that opposing the Duke of Wellington's amendment meant an MP was in favour of discharging waste in our waterways.
Frankly, that assertion is ridiculous. The Government proposed the Environment Bill to clean up our waterways, not pollute them.
Sadly, we cannot fix our Victorian sewage system overnight. Eliminating storm overflows could cost anywhere between £150 and £650 billion. This whopping bill would ultimately have to be paid for by households and taxpayers.
It is worth remembering why we discharge into waterways: rainwater flows into the system alongside sewage from households and businesses. When there is heavy rain, too much water enters the system, and pressure builds. Without storm overflows, this pressure would build until sewage flows back up the pipes, flooding our streets and people's homes.
This was the danger from the Duke's original amendment, which would effectively stop water companies from using stormflows overnight. It not only could have committed the country to spend billions of pounds with no clear plan but could have led to raw sewage flowing into people's homes when it rains heavily.
The new amendment agreed between my colleague Philip Dunne MP, the Duke, and the Government will revise the Environment Bill to force water companies to create deliverable and funded plans to reduce waste discharge. It marks a big step forward in protecting our waterways.