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Did MPs vote to keep dumping untreated sewage?

Whether or not they meant to, it turns out they did. If you are short of time, skip to the letter to the Secretary of State at the end.

Described by the water industry as natural foam - it wasn't - it was coming out of Bampton Sewage works.

Remember the fuss last year when the government ordered its MPs to vote down an adjustment to the Environment Bill? It was the Duke of Wellington's amendment to place a ''duty on sewerage undertakers to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows'' but that sensible application of instant pressure to out-of-control water companies was controversially rejected in favour of a much more flaky version preferred by Defra which came up with this approach, to quote from its plan.

''Last year, the Government placed a legally binding duty on water companies in the Environment Act 2021 to progressively reduce the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows.''

Anyone who knew anything about the way water companies and the regulators have fudged environmental impact assessments and led us to this crisis immediately recognised the risk of yet another phase of letting the companies keep on polluting illegally.

The Department for the Environment fed MPs and the public some scare stories and frighteningly high guestimates of fees to fix the problem to try to make the public accept a third-rate approach but campaigners were having none of it and some accused MPs of voting to keep dumping untreated sewage in our waters.

Many MPs became very agitated about the semantics (and still are) and denied it but the reality now starts to unfold and take away all doubt about the consequences of the vote. They got it badly wrong - unless they intended to simply keep pollution profitable far into the future.

Remember that prior to the Environment Act it was already illegal to dump untreated sewage other than in exceptional circumstances but government policy was stifling regulation and debilitating resourcing of the Environment Agency was preventing it from enforcing the law.

Not all MPs voted that way and in the Windrush catchment Sir Geoffrey Clifton Brown (Cotswolds MP) stood out as one of a very small number of Conservative MPs who defied the Whips office - at least to the point of abstaining.

WASP's challenges to Witney MP, Robert Courts excuses for voting with the government are covered in previous WASP blogs.

The Environment Act placed a duty on the government to prepare a plan to tackle untreated sewage overflows and it put a plan out for consultation which closed in May 2022. Apparently, about 22,000 responses were received and you can see here how the results were 'interpreted' and ignored.

So we are left with the same lamentable standard of plan which really only serves the shareholders of the water industry. It is so full of holes that it is hard to imagine it troubling an industry which has historically chosen when and how it would be regulated. Targets are easily evaded, ridiculously lengthy, hopelessly inadequate and play into the hands of the monopoly companies yet again.

WASP has been exposing failure after failure of regulation and the cynical lawbreaking of companies that simply know they can get away with it most of the time. The current plan will simply help the water companies to continue breaking the law.

Now we are also looking at the financial scam, for herein lies the heart of the motivation and the influence and negligence of many years of governments since privatisation.

Freedom of Information Act enquiries with Ofwat have revealed some shocking revelations into which we are digging deeper. One big issue is the totally out of control profit fest that has been allowed to happen despite license requirements that appear to have been breached.

This letter to the Secretary of State sets out the facts and shows why the critical vote that MPs were forced to make or made willingly, has paved the way to prolong illegality that must be brought urgently back into line.

Our allies at Wild fish - formerly known as the Salmon and Trout Conservation Trust, have taken the first steps in a legal challenge to the plan which effectively gives our water and environment to big business interests in exchange for tinkering with the causes - many people are going to find this hard to believe so we and other NGOs will be serving up the evidence over coming weeks.

We are at a crisis point in many ways and many people are feeling the harsh bite of financial hardship. Some commentators may say it is not the time to worry about the environment but the two are entwined here with a financial scam of the public and the wrecking of our waters and we don't see why we have to accept either.

This has been a cross-party issue, certainly amid local government if not MPs, and we hope it will remain so and the MPs will also wake up to the real facts.



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