CIEH urges Environment Secretary not to row back on tougher penalties for water companies

21 February 2023, Ciaran Donaghy

CIEH have urged the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs not to row back on previous commitments to impose tougher penalties for water companies found guilty of dumping sewage into our rivers, coasts, and waterways.

This follows the announcement this morning that Defra Secretary Thérèse Coffey has demanded water companies share their plans on improving Britain’s water infrastructure.

The Environment Secretary has demanded a clear assessment & action plan on every storm overflow from every water and sewerage company in England, prioritising those that are spilling more than a certain number of times a year, and those spilling into bathing waters and high priority nature sites.

She has also set out more detail on how water companies will face higher penalties that are quicker and easier to enforce.

CIEH, in our Environmental Health Manifesto, have called on the government to impose higher penalties, even criminal sanctions, for bosses of water companies found guilty of the worst pollution incidents, and urge the Defra Secretary not to renege on previous commitments to increase civil penalties of up to £250 million for water companies found guilty of continuous breaches of regulations.

Furthermore, CIEH have urged the government to take a more proactive approach with respect to improving the UK’s sewage infrastructure as a national priority. The UK Government’s own statistics have indicated that the amount of raw sewage being dumped into our waters is increasing, and with outbreaks of polio being detected in the UK CIEH are concerned that the UK government is not doing enough to target the illegal discharge of raw, untreated sewage into our rivers and waterways by water companies.

Ross Matthewman, Head of Policy and Campaigns at CIEH, said,

“We at the CIEH are very concerned that the government are rowing back on previous commitments to increase penalties being faced by water companies guilty of polluting our rivers and coasts, and today’s announcement have done nothing to allay those concerns.

With the Defra Secretary urging water companies to show the government their improvement plans for improving the UK’s sewage infrastructure, she is basically inviting them to ‘mark their own homework.’

At a time when drastic intervention, tougher penalties and stricter enforcement is necessary, there is real concern that water companies will be let off the hook once again, and we would urge the Secretary of State to change course.”

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