I am glad that this is the first Government to set out expectations that water companies must take steps to significantly reduce storm overflows. This instruction will now be put on an enhanced legal footing.
Let me be clear, the amount of sewage discharge by water companies into our rivers is unacceptable; water companies must significantly reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows as a priority. If we do not start to see significant improvements I am assured that ministers will not hesitate to take action through a swathe of new measures directly on water companies in the Environment Act.
My colleagues and I did not vote to allow water companies to pump sewage into our rivers. I actually voted in favour of a package of measures to reduce harms from storm overflows. This includes 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 planning horizon, including how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans.
The Act will also create a new duty on Government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows, and produce a report setting out the actions that would be needed to eliminate discharges from storm overflows in England, and the costs and benefits of those actions. Both publications are required before 1 September 2022. The package of measures I voted for will also create three new duties on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operation, publish near real time information on the operation of storm overflows and to monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works.
Therefore I welcome that the Government secured an amendment that says that water companies must secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impact of discharges from their storm overflows, placing a direct legal duty on water companies.
Ministers have also announced that they will bolster the measures they are already taking. In July of this year, this Government set out, for the first time ever, its expectation that Ofwat should incentivise water companies to invest to significantly reduce the use of storm overflows in the forthcoming pricing review period. The Government’s amendment will place this policy position in an additional clause in the Environment Act to underline the action the Government is taking.