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Tourist Attractions: Sewage

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN 64617, tabled on 27 October 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he is taking to prevent excessive sewage in tourist areas.

Answered on

4 November 2021

In 2019 98.3% of UK Designated Bathing Sites passed the minimum standard for bathing and more than 70% of bathing waters achieved the 'excellent' rating, compared with 28% at the highest standard in the 1990s.

Water quality is a devolved matter and the following information is for England only.

I have been crystal clear that water companies must take further action to reduce sewage discharges from Storm Overflows and this is a Government priority. Our draft Strategic Policy Statement to Ofwat sets out for the first time that we expect water companies to take the steps required to "significantly reduce…. storm overflows." We have also announced that we will put that instruction on a statutory footing with a new duty on water companies to progressively reduce the impact of sewage discharges.

Furthermore, our Environment Bill also includes the following new duties directly on water companies to:

  • publish statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans, for the first time, setting out how they will reduce overflows, as well as detailing other improvements, and provides the power for government to direct companies if these plans are inadequate;
  • monitor water quality up and downstream of areas potentially affected by discharges;
  • publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis;
  • publish near real time information -within 1 hour- on the operation of storm overflows.

We will not hesitate to use our powers to hold companies to account. Earlier this year Southern Water was handed a record-breaking £90 million fine, and Thames Water was fined £4 million and £2.3 million for separate incidents.

New amendments have been tabled that place duties on government to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows and reduce their impact. There is also a duty to report to Parliament on progress on implementing the plan. We will also produce a report outlining further evidence regarding elimination of Storm Overflows by September 2022.

Truly reducing harm from storm overflows will require a collaborative approach between many actors. To this end, in August 2020 I established the Storm Overflows Taskforce to bring together key stakeholders from the water industry, regulators, and environmental NGOs, with a long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows. The Taskforce has already taken steps to improve monitoring and transparency and has commissioned research to gather evidence on the costs, benefits and feasibility of different options.