Storm Overflows and Sewage

Many people have contacted me asking me why I voted the way I did about a specific Amendment in the Environment Bill last week concerning storm overflows and sewage.

Allow me to explain the issues with the Amendment, and what the Government is doing to tackle storm overflows. Contrary to media reports, the Government did not propose legislation allowing water companies to dump sewage into our waterways.

The Amendment proposed by the Duke of Wellington called for a complete ban through the elimination on the use of storm overflows in sewage systems, a lofty aspiration I support in principle. The trouble was the Amendment did not include a thorough study and came with no credible plan whatsoever on how to achieve this.

The consequence of passing this Amendment into law, would mean the replacement of a system which has operated since the Victorian Era, the preliminary cost of which is estimated to be anywhere between £150 billion and £650 billion.

To put those figures in perspective, £150 billion is more than the entire schools, policing and defence budgets put together, and £650 billion is well above what has been spent combatting the Coronavirus pandemic. It would bankrupt most water companies unless consumers or taxpayers contribute. The cost works out at between about £5,000 and £20,000 per household.

These figures highlight the issue with the Amendment. Everyone in South Derbyshire and the UK wants clean rivers and waterways, but it would have been irresponsible to have inserted this section in the Bill given that it was not backed by a detailed plan and thorough impact assessment. It would have been the equivalent of signing a blank check on behalf of billpayers. We need an achievable plan to clean up our waterways, not one which would disrupt many businesses, households and massively increases water bills for residents as we emerge from the Pandemic.  

What we really need to do is the arduous, detailed, practical work required to reduce sewage from storm overflows. I admit, this work is not is not glamorous or headline-grabbing. But it is the effective action we need to deliver for local residents.

I am pleased that we have added to the Environment Bill and with these Amendments it will ensure we deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country - transforming how we protect our natural environment, make better use of our resources and clean up our air and water.

The Government will hold underperforming companies to account, and is already taking direct action to deliver progressive reductions in the harm caused by storm overflows through measures in the Environment Bill, including:

  • 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 if they are not good enough. We will not hesitate to use this power of direction.
  • a new duty on Government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows and their adverse impact, and report to Parliament on progress.
  • 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 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.

Outside of the Bill, Ministers have made their expectations crystal clear in Defra’s draft Strategic Policy Statement to Ofwat. For the first time, the Government will be telling the industry’s financial regulator that it expects water companies to take steps to “significantly reduce storm overflows”, and that it expects funding to be approved for them to do so. 
Ministers will also undertake a review of legislation which would require Sustainable Drainage Systems to be constructed to ministerial standards on new developments, reducing the pressure on the sewage system.  
All of these measures are informed by the work of the Storm Overflows Task Force, which Defra established in August 2020 to bring together key stakeholders from the water industry, environmental NGOs, regulators, and Government in order to drive progress in reducing sewage discharges. The Taskforce has agreed a goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows. 

I hope this goes some way to assuring you that the Government is committed to a practical, long term solution to cleaning up our waterways.

You can read more about what the Government is doing here:…

Please be assured that I will continue to drive progress in South Derbyshire until we can all enjoy clean and healthy waterways.