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 share residents' concern about the condition of the River Windrush, and have been working on this issue for some time. I am also engaging closely with the Evenlode Catchment Partnership on matters relating to that river.
I am pleased to report that huge progress is being made, both locally and nationally.
In October 2021, the Government announced that a new amendment will be tabled to the Environment Bill, enshrining in law a duty on water companies to secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows.
The new amendment will further strengthen the Environment Bill, which already as drafted puts in place more protections against water pollution than ever before. This includes:
- 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, including a full analysis of the costs and benefits of those actions. Both publications are required before September next year.
- a new duty directly on water companies to publish near real time information - within one hour- on the operation of storm overflows.
- a new duty directly on water companies to monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works.
- 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 period to reduce storm overflows.
- 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.
Separately, 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.
There is also the Government's Strategic Policy Statement to Ofwat which, for the first time, sees government telling the water 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. This is a very powerful tool for the Government to drive action from water companies, as it strongly influences investment decisions and financial assessment.
This is all building towards the Government’s ambition to end pollution from storm overflows, transforming our sewerage system which has been in operation since the Victorian Era.
More broadly, the Government recently announced that it is doubling the Catchment Sensitive Farming budget to reduce river pollution caused by agricultural run-off. Of course, sewage is one of numerous factors which impact the health of local rivers, so this too is a welcome measure.
All of this represents a huge positive step forward in our campaign to tackle river pollution in West Oxfordshire and across the country.
I will continue to work with our local environmental groups, Defra and the Environment Agency to hold Thames Water to account and ensure we protect and enhance all our local rivers.