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. The Government announced in April 2021 that measures to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows will be put into law, as part of an ambitious agenda to build back greener from the pandemic.
Significantly, the Government recently announced a generational ambition to end pollution from storm overflows. Indeed, this is the first time a government has set out such an ambition and been committed to transforming a system which has been operating for well over a century.
To help deliver this ambition, the Government will create new legal duties to oversee some of the changes needed to improve our water environment:
- a duty on water companies to publish near real-time information on when their storm overflows operate;
- a new requirement for water companies to monitor the water quality impacts of their sewage discharges and publish this information;
- a duty on government to publish a plan by 1 September next year to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows;
- a duty on government to report to Parliament on progress on implementing the plan;
- a duty on government to publish a report considering the costs and benefits of eliminating overflows entirely.
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.
Water companies have also committed to investing over £3.1 billion in storm overflow improvements between 2020-25 to reduce sewage discharges to our waters.
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.