Ensuring Clean & Healthy Local Rivers

As a passionate conservationist, I take a deep interest in our natural environment, fully recognising the importance of ensuring clean and healthy rivers - both locally and nationally.  

I continue to share residents' concerns about the condition of our waterways here in Oxfordshire and as many of you will know, I have personally been campaigning on this issue of sewage pollution since 2017, not long after I was first elected. I welcome the national prominence this has gathered since then. 

I continue to engage closely with local environmental groups, Parish Councils, Thames Water, Government bodies and constituents, taking every opportunity possible to represent the strength of feeling I know West Oxfordshire’s residents hold on this subject.  

I remain deeply concerned about the levels of sewage being discharged into our rivers here in Oxfordshire. As the Minister for Water, Robbie Moore MP reflected in a recent Westminster Hall debate on the ‘Performance of Thames Water in Oxfordshire’, the current levels of discharges taking place from Witney STW are ‘unacceptable’ and this has impacted on our local community. Following my conversations with the Minister about these discharges, he referred to the ongoing criminal investigation currently being carried out by the Environment Agency to ensure Thames Water pay for any breaches of their permits at Witney STW.  

In Westminster, we have seen much positive progress from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs as they deliver on ‘Our Plan for Water’: 

  • The Environment Agency has now been granted new powers to issue unlimited fines to water companies that break the law.  

  • In 2010, when the Conservative Party took office a mere 7% of storm overflows were monitored – at the end of December the EA announced that every storm overflow in England is now monitored, 100%. This is crucial as it will enable local authorities and the Government to better tackle illegal discharges and investigate those that breach their strict permits. 

  • Most recently, the Government has taken action to ban bonuses for the bosses of water companies that have committed serious breaches of their permits by illegally discharging sewage into our rivers.  

This Government's ‘Plan for Water’ also includes the 2021 Environment Act which is amongst the most ambitious pieces of environmental legislation in the world and will go a long way to improve water quality and reduce discharges. Further to this, the Environment Act’s comprehensive “Storm Overflows Reduction Plan” sets out new targets to protect the environment by requiring water companies to deliver the largest infrastructure programme in water company history, to the tune of £56 bn. 

As part of my local campaign to address these issues, I continue to write to the Director of Thames Water, Alistair Cochran, regularly to raise my concerns. In these letters, I reiterate how unacceptable the levels of sewage discharged into our waterways are, conveying the anger many in West Oxfordshire feel about these incidents.  

I have been assured that Thames Water is currently carrying out upgrades across our local networks. Treatment capacity at Witnbey STW is currently being expanded from 240 to 399 litres per second with completion of this work due by the 31st of March 2025 at the latest. 

More broadly, it is important to remember that when talking about eliminating storm overflows, we are talking about transforming a system that has operated since the Victorian era. The hard truth is that we cannot transform the old mixed water system that we have overnight with a blanket ban on sewage discharges: the result would be sewage backing up into peoples’ homes and onto the streets. So, whilst more is happening to tackle this issue than ever before, the reality is it cannot be stopped altogether in one instance. It will take more time, but this Government is taking action in the right direction.  

What is most important is that MPs like me, alongside this Government as well as campaign groups, continue to apply maximum pressure on water companies like Thames Water to complete the necessary upgrades to their sewage networks.  

I hold regular meetings with the Secretary of State for the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Steve Barclay MP, to highlight how important it is that we continue to address the issue of sewage pollution as the highest priority. 

Rivers Campaign Sign Up


Action from water regulator Ofwat

A further step forward in our campaign for clean water: the water regulator Ofwat is taking action against water companies that pay out dividends to their shareholders despite failing to meet the required performance standards.

Thames Water's Local Infrastructure Upgrades

Having campaigned for upgrades for years, this is good news.

I’m glad that Thames Water now agree that the discharges we’ve seen are unacceptable & have agreed to these local upgrades: 

Update on Action on Water

Quick update on our action on water and the significant steps we are taking to improve our water on everything from monitoring to cleanup.

We are doing more to tackle sewage discharges than any other Government in history:

1st Government to introduce a reduction plan

Robert Welcomes Recent Updates From Thames Water

Since first being elected in 2016, I have campaigned tirelessly to tackle issues of water pollution and flooding for my constituents. 

Like other residents, I have been increasingly angered by the number of sewage releases being conducted by Thames Water from Witney Sewage Works.