For many years, new housing developments have been joined to existing sewer networks without any care for whether the sewage works or the pipework could cope.
The government itself admitted this in a blog in January 2021 when Defra stated
‘‘water infrastructure has not kept pace with development growth over decades’ but showed no real intention of doing anything about it. It could have started by finding out why the regulators had spectacularly failed to make the water industry spend money - especially as it readily sucked up new connection fees and annual bills and kept the dividends and bonuses flowing.
Note - WASP is not for or against development but is definitely against development making sewage pollution worse. WASP and councillors are certainly not blocking new homes being built - it is about making sure people's health and quality of life and environment are protected and that these things are not simply compromised for profit by a few. Delays will be at the door of the water industry, regulators and those who allowed the system to be exploited at local communities' expense.
WASP has been searching for a way to bring an end to this shocking situation for a while, starting in earnest in 2021when we started putting ideas to West Oxfordshire District Council about ending the cycle of misinformation and wilful ignorance which was played out, nationally, encouraged by the National Planning Policy Framework and government demands that local authorities deliver the housing targets forced on them - often with no regard to the impact on infrastructure.
No one who lives in West Oxfordshire and surrounding areas will need to be told that new housing has been added in what appear to be unprecedented numbers (with the possible exception of the post-war rebuild).
Just as roads have filled up with traffic, so sewers have filled up with extra wastewater from new homes to the tune of about 30 tonnes or 30 cubic metres per 100 houses and that's per day (a conservative estimate based on average occupancy of 2.4 people and water industry figures.
Where traffic may grind to a standstill in inadequate transport systems, the answer for overloaded sewage systems for the water industry has been there all along - simply increase the volumes dumped via what are erroneously called storm overflows - because they so often function without anything remotely like a storm being involved. Despite less than credible attempts, this is not something to blame on the Victorians who set the foundation for modern sewage treatment - this failure lies entirely at the door of 21st-century profiteering and inadequate regulation and governance.
Here is a 'storm overflow' in action at Witney, operating upstream of its treated effluent outfall.
This has been dumping untreated sewage continuously for over 18 days since 28 December 2022. These are not the short events claimed to be needed to stop sewage flooding people's homes but are most definitely the long-term spills needed to prop up the underinvestment from which Thames Water has made so much money at the expense of the customer and the environment.
While we are talking overflows, let's link you to a new interactive map produced by the data team at Thames Water ahead of the other companies that are also required by law to do it. In the meantime, we wait to see how long government will allow them to drag their heels.
We will do a separate blog on the map very soon.
In October 2022 WASP revisited the planning question with WODC councillors and officers and it has been picked up with determination to make sure that new housing brings benefits, not more pollution bringing environmental damage and risk to public health
This (see link) Oxford Mail article explains in more detail but the basic premise is to seek conditions that sewage infrastructure will be able to cope legally before adding even more loading to it. Who would have thought that this could have been ignored for so long? But it has.
To follow this up and put pressure on Ofwat to do its duty we have written to Ofwat to call on it to support communities and billpayers.
Again, who would have thought the regulator and government would have tolerated illegal activity by highly profitable companies for so long? But they have.
Signed by a selection of cross-party councillors; here is the letter.
WASP is currently seeking legal advice on how to maximise the chances of ending profiteering from illegal pollution.