Local environmentalists ‘should sit on water company boards to fight sewage dumping’

Water companies should be forced to give local environmentalists a “seat at the table” of their boards to fight sewage dumping, the Liberal Democrats have said.

Earlier this year, Environmental Audit Committee MPs said England’s rivers had become a “chemical cocktail” of sewage, agricultural waste and plastics.

Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, who is now the party’s spokesman for rural affairs, said it was time to ‘name and shame’ companies for their ‘disgusting dumps in our rivers “.

By forcing water companies to accept local environmentalists on their boards, the public will be able to hold them to account, the Lib Dems have said.

“Local groups will learn firsthand how serious the problem is from the water companies and can release the details to the public,” the party said.

Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, who is now the party’s rural affairs spokesperson (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The Lib Dems said the move was inspired by former Undertones frontman Feargal Sharkey, who campaigned to clean up Britain’s waterways.

Mr Farron said: “It is time to name and shame the water companies for their disgusting dumps in our rivers.

“Local environmental groups should have a seat at the table to stop water companies trying to get away with outrageous damage to wildlife habitats and popular swimming spots.

“The campaign to save our rivers from sewage has attracted public attention the likes of which I have not seen in years. We have Feargal Sharkey to thank for that.

“I want to see a Feargal on the board of every water company, make sure this scandal ends once and for all.”

spooky sharkey
Feargal Sharkey, former Undertones frontman (Paul Faith/PA)

Sharkey last year criticized MPs who voted against an amendment to a bill to impose legal obligations on water companies that dump raw sewage into rivers across the country.

Tory MPs were initially forced to vote against the Environment Bill Amendment – now the Environment Act 2021.

Ministers were later accused of flip-flopping when the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the bill would be ‘strengthened’.

MPs then voted to introduce tougher legal restrictions on the practice of dumping untreated waste into waterways via storm overflows, with the government concession approved by 283 votes to 162 – a majority of 120.

Water companies have been warned they will face ‘consequences’ if they do not seek to halt the discharge of raw sewage into England’s rivers and seas.

Wastewater can be pumped out of the sewer system and into rivers through combined sewer overflows – otherwise known as storm overflows or relief valves.

Overflows are designed to drain excess water after heavy rains or storms to prevent sewage from flowing back into homes.

The government said its amendment to the Environment Bill would “categorically reduce the amount of untreated sewage in our waters and means water companies must reduce the operation of storm overflows”.

Defra has been approached for comment.

Laura J. Boyer