Hastings and Bexhill MPs back new legal controls on water firms dumping sewage in sea following Government U-turn

The Hastings and Bexhill MPs have welcomed a new legal duty which will require water firms to tackle sewage discharges into the sea, rivers and streams.

Huw Merriman on Bexhill beach at site of discharge pipes SUS-211027-121317001
Huw Merriman on Bexhill beach at site of discharge pipes SUS-211027-121317001

The move comes amid a Government U-turn yesterday (Tuesday, October 26) following several Conservative MPs across the country facing a backlash from constituents when they voted down the amendment to the Environment Bill, which was tabled by the Lords last week.

The amendment itself called for a legal duty on water firms not to discharge untreated sewage into the sea.

Last week Hastings and Rye MP, Sally-Ann Hart voted against the amendment, while Bexhill and Battle MP, Huw Merriman backed it.

Hastings and Rye MP, Sally-Ann Hart in Parliament SUS-211018-162700001

On Tuesday the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the Environment Bill will be ‘further strengthened with an amendment that will see a duty enshrined in law’ to make sure water firms ‘secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows’.

Mr Merriman was one of 22 Conservative MPs last Wednesday (October 20) to vote against the Government bill which he described as ‘not enough’ to force water and sewerage companies to tackle the issue.

Speaking after the Government rethink, Mr Merriman said: “I am delighted that we will now have a tough set of reduction measures, enforced with a legal duty to action.

“For too long, waterways and our seas have had sewage discharged into them and our homes and streets experience sewage overflow. It’s a diabolical situation and it’s not a solution to the more frequent heavy rainfall we have recently been experiencing.

“More investment to increase capacity in the waste water system is urgently needed to prevent this disgusting pollution of our water and prevent sewerage overflowing from manholes in times of heavy rain.

“I will now campaign to ensure that Southern Water’s sewerage discharge pipes are removed from our sea.”

The Government’s Environment Bill is now expected to become law.

Mr Merriman said he has written to the chief executive of Southern Water for a timetable for action.

Mrs Hart said: “As part of normal parliamentary process, and following detailed discussions since the consideration of the Lords Amendments to the Environment Bill, I warmly welcome the decision taken by the Government yesterday to further strengthen the Bill via an amendment that will see a duty enshrined in law to ensure that water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows.

“This amendment follows the position the Government has already set out in its draft Strategic Policy Statement to Ofwat - that it expects water companies to take steps to ‘significantly reduce the frequency and volume of storm overflows’.

“This means that when Ofwat and Environment Agency set out the process for the next Price Review in 2024, they will include this in their requirements for companies preparing their business plans.

“This new amendment will make the Government’s position unequivocal in law and, with the information that the other provisions in the Bill provide, the Government will be able to assess the progress water companies are making to achieve a progressive reduction in harm to the environment and, if progress is insufficient, take enforcement action against those companies.

“This issue is important to me and I also fully recognise its importance to many of my constituents across Hastings and Rye, and the amendment will further strengthen the range of measures that are already included in this crucial piece of legislation which I look forward to scrutinizing once again when it comes before MPs.”