Paul Millar: environmental regulation is too weak

Weak regulation has a dreadful impact on our environment

Paul Millar

Dear readers, sleaze and sewage have not just been the talk of the Westminster bubble but the streets of Exmouth too.

We have sea waters which only weeks ago, along with Budleigh and 13 other Devon beaches, were judged to be too dirty to swim in. 

We have an MP whose response days later was to vote against a legislative amendment to ensure water companies took ‘all reasonable steps’ to reduce raw sewage discharge into our rivers and oceans. Instead, Simon Jupp last week backed a government amendment which gives water companies carte blanche to do diddly squat. 

Water companies have handed a total of £57 billion to their shareholders in the 30 years since privatisation. Across Europe, only the Czech Republic joins England and Wales in having a fully privatised water industry. 

Our weak regulatory framework allows for dreadful environmental outcomes, as the residents in Clyst St Mary have experienced, with a total of 11 instances of sewage flooding this year, and toilets being out of action for 60 hours at a time. England’s only colony of wild beavers at the River Otter is being affected by raw sewage being discharged from an overflow site further up the river. The Devon Wildlife Trust, which lobbied Mr Jupp to vote for the amendment in question, is monitoring the beaver population but is concerned that species of wildlife have suffered much greater harm. Many local people cannot understand Mr Jupp’s position. What was he thinking? 

The cosy relationship between big players in the water industry and the Conservative Party should be a concern to us all. It might well explain the lack of will and action to tackle the companies’ performance. It is a fact that membership of the European Union forced us to improve environmental standards. It is deeply concerning that we seem to be moving backwards, at a time when protecting our environment has never been more important.