Environment Agency knew sewage was being dumped into rivers years ago, leak reveals

The Environment Agency knew raw sewage was being illegally dumped into English rivers from wastewater treatment works a decade ago, a leaked report shows.

Rachel Salvidge www.theguardian.com 

However, the agency’s chair told MPs in May that the practice had only recently come to light.

The Environment Agency’s 2012 inspection report for the north-west region shows that a number of sewage works belonging to the water company United Utilities were dumping raw sewage into rivers while failing to treat the required amount of sewage stipulated in their permits.

Water companies are allowed to discharge untreated sewage into rivers, lakes and seas only at times of exceptional rainfall and only then if they are already treating a specified volume of sewage, known as “flow to full treatment” (FtFT).

The report shows that United Utilities was fined £200,000 for FtFT-related breaches at its Cleator sewage works in Cumbria, where flow data showed that only 65% of the required sewage was being treated while raw sewage was being dumped into the nearby river, and that “the storm overflow weir had been set deliberately to this lower level”.

It also shows Environment Agency officers suspected a further 35 United Utilities works to be dumping sewage while failing to treat the required amount of sewage. Officers carried out inspections at nine sites and found issues with FtFT at five works as a result of problems with flow meters and an Archimedes screw, along with “erratic readings” and “gaps in flow data”.

Although the report was written in 2012, the Environment Agency chair, Sir James Bevan, told the House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee in May this year, that “until recently, we have not had very good data about what is happening at sewage treatment works”.

Two investigations into the practice are under way. In November, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced that “several water companies had come forward” to say that “many of their sewage treatment works may not be compliant”, and that the Environment Agency and Ofwat had both launched sector-wide investigations into sewage dumping.

Defra’s announcement came shortly after campaigners from Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (Wasp) published its analysis of water company data that showed many works were dumping raw sewage in dry conditions and without treating enough sewage.

But Bevan told MPs on the committee that it was the Environment Agency’s insistence that water companies put monitors on their sewage treatment works that prompted water companies to come forward and tell the agency that the data would reveal non-compliance.

“And it was that understanding, which only came to us, frankly, within the last 12 months, that led to the investigation that the Environment Agency is running … that appears to show significant and widespread breaches of … permits,” Bevan told the MPs.

A whistleblower from the Environment Agency said the report “highlights how common” the practice is.

“This was known in 2012 when self-regulation was pushed and water quality monitoring, staffing and regulation was dramatically cut,” they added. “The agency had an opportunity to prevent over 10 years of illegal sewage dumping but chose not to take it, despite the funding being available. They knowingly permitted the illegal activity to continue.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said the agency has “significantly driven up monitoring and transparency from water companies in recent years. In 2016, there were only 800 event duration monitors on storm overflows, and now there are more than 12,000. This data is allowing us to hold the industry to account on a scale never seen before”.

But event duration monitoring data has not been reliable. The government’s recently published plan to reduce sewage spills “relies on self-reporting of sewage spills by the water industry”, said Prof Peter Hammond, formerly visiting scientist at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. But “close scrutiny of submissions to the Environment Agency suggests water companies cannot be trusted to provide complete and correct spill data”, he said.

“The plan will fail unless the Environment Agency takes back control of all monitoring and dramatically improves its regulation,” he added.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said it has recently requested detailed data from more than 2,200 wastewater treatment works “as part of the biggest investigation we have ever undertaken into potential permit breaches – and where there is evidence of non-compliance we will not hesitate to pursue the water companies concerned and take appropriate action”.

“We continue to take tens of thousands of water quality samples ourselves every year as part of our work to keep rivers clean, and we are also investing more this year to further advance our approach to sampling – and we have placed a wide range of new requirements on water companies to significantly increase their monitoring and reporting so that this data is available to all.”

The spokesperson declined to comment on the time gap between the date of the leaked report and Bevan’s comments.

A United Utilities spokesperson said: “These would be serious allegations and we will need to investigate further.”

Ash Smith, the founder of Wasp, said the water industry had “based its business success on ‘sweating the assets’ – not upgrading sewage works and dumping the sewage that it can’t treat into our rivers and seas, largely without interference from the Environment Agency.

“The industry has become reliant on this often illegal activity to make profits and bonuses and to do this it needed the agency to let most of it go unpunished and unchecked.”

Water companies told the Environment Agency that they dumped raw sewage into rivers and seas 372,544 times last year, for 2.6m hours. The real figure is believed to be much higher though, due to underreporting.

Exeter Plan published

How the city could develop over 20 years

Under the “Old Guard” Tory regime how much of this would have been built on the green fields of East Devon under the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP)?

The residual government imposed “targets” are bad enough.

A thought – how many of the “Old Guard” East Devon Tories, who were always bullish “Build, build, build” supporters, are rowing in behind Truss and Kwarteng? – Owl

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

The first public consultation on a plan that will shape the future of Exeter for the next 20 years is now live.

Once finalised, the long-awaited Exeter Plan – the first new local plan for the city in 10 years – will be the blueprint that shapes the city’s future development.

An initial eight-week consultation on the first draft is now open until Monday 5 December. More will follow before the plan is refined and eventually adopted.

It addresses issues like climate change, homes and jobs, the future of high streets, transport and infrastructure and design quality. Around 30 policies are included, reflecting points raised from the first ‘issues’ consultation on the emerging plan in 2021.

The draft includes the city’s spatial strategy and highlights the benefits of steering the majority of development – around 85 per cent – towards brownfield sites to protect the city’s landscape setting and environmental quality.

It also proposes to consider “modest, greenfield development as a supplement to brownfield schemes” and to protect the “sensitive Exe Estuary and the sensitive hills to the north and north west of the city,” whilst avoiding areas of higher flood risk where possible.

Based on the government’s calculation that Exeter needs to provide 650 homes a year, a number of locations are identified. These include eight large strategic places, smaller council-owned sites, those promoted by third parties and a small number of allocated sites not yet built on. They are:

Large scale brownfield development sites: Mixed use

  • Marsh Barton – 1,880 (homes)
  • Water Lane – 1,180
  • East Gate – 750
  • Red Cow – 430
  • Sandy Gate – 250
  • North Gate – 200
  • West Gate – 200
  • South Gate – 170

Predominantly residential sites:

  • St Bridget Nurseries, Old Rydon Lane – 334 (homes)
  • Land to the north, south and west of the Met Office – 225
  • Land south of the A379 – 184
  • 12-31 Sidwell Street – 51
  • Land east of Newcourt Road, Topsham – 43
  • Devon & Exeter Squash Club, Prince of Wales Road – 40
  • Land at Newcourt Road, Topsham – 38
  • Land adjoining Silverlands, Chudleigh Road – 37
  • Belle Isle Depot, Belle Isle Drive – 33
  • Land west of Newcourt Road, Topsham – 31
  • Chestnut Avenue – 26
  • Former overflow car park, Tesco, Russell Way – 18
  • Land behind 66 Chudleigh Road – 16
  • Land east of Pinn Lane – 14
  • Land at Hamlin Lane – 13
  • Yeomans Gardens, Newcourt Road, Topsham – 13
  • Fever & Boutique, 12 Mary Arches Street – 10
  • 88 Honiton Road – 10
  • Garages at Lower Wear Road – 9
  • 99 Howell Road – 6

Introducing the plan to the council’s executive earlier this month, director of city development Ian Collinson said: “I’ve not seen another statutory local plan anywhere in the country that’s brought together the vision for the place in the way that we’ve done here.”

While he said it was a “coherent plan,” Mr Collinson added: “This is not a done deal and there will be lots of opportunities for people to shape it.”

Council leader Phil Bialyk (Labour, Exwick) introduces the document. He says: “Exeter is a fantastic city and I know that all of our residents feel the same way, so it is very important that everyone has a say on how it develops in the future.

“That’s why we want everyone to make sure their voices are heard. We’re reaching out to all of our communities and businesses with the draft plan. It will touch the lives of everyone living in the city as well as those working, studying in or visiting Exeter, so everyone needs to own it and have a say.”

The council has a legal duty to prepare planning policy for the city. The Exeter Plan will replace earlier development plans.

As well as being available on an interactive online platform called Commonplace, hard copies of the consultation can also be found in some public places, as well as at a series of public exhibitions.

A report will be brought back to the council’s executive exploring the comments made in the consultation and how they will shape the next stage of the plan.

Further consultation will then be held next year.

Poorest in society will pay most for Tory tax cuts, Kwasi Kwarteng signals

It’s not Putin nuking the economy but Truss and Kwarteng! – Owl

Kwasi Kwarteng has signalled that the poorest people in Britain will have to bear the brunt of his disastrous handling of the economy.

Torcuil Crichton www.dailyrecord.co.uk

In his first public statement since sending the pound plummeting the train wreck chancellor said it was too soon to say if benefits will rise with inflation next year, as promised.

In a move that could herald a new era of austerity the Treasury told Whitehall departments on Wednesday that “efficiency savings” would have to be made to fill the hole in the public finances.

Having announced sweeping tax cuts including for top rate payers in the first 20 days of his job, Kwarteng refused to say if the poorest would see their benefits rise with inflation, which is running at 10 per cent.

The channcellor said: “We are talking about helping people in the round. It’s premature of me to come to a decision about that”.

The Resolution Foundation estimated think tank estimated that £11 billion could be lost to claimants if benefits are uprated by earnings instead of by inflation in the next year amid warnings that would lead to destitution for many.

A couple with two chilidren on benefits woul lose £1061 and a single parent with one child on benefits would lose £607 a year the Resolution Fondation calculated.

In tv comment on Thurday Kwarteng sidestepped questions on tyhe mini budget disaster but insisted that his measures were needed to ensure growth.

He insisted that the Government is “sticking to the growth plan” and that it is “going to help people with energy bills”.

Chris Philp, Kwarteng’s deputy as chief secretary to the Treasury, confirmed this morning that cabinet ministers are being told that they must manage within existing budgets, even though inflation means they may be going down in real terms.

Concern was expressed by trade unions representing public sector workers in response to reports that departments are being asked to draw up plans for cuts as a result of the crisis sparked by the mini-budget.

Civil service departments were already delivering an average of five per cent efficiency savings agreed as part of a review last year.

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants said it now appeared the government was asking for those plans to be ripped up “in a state of panic”.

Plans for more hospital beds across Devon

The NHS in Devon plans to create more than 100 new hospital beds across the county.

Stand up all you “value for money” Tories who voted for bed closures in the first place!

Most of the names will pop out of searches of the “Watch” archives.

We have made over 16,000 posts since “Old Owl” took to the wing in October 2013 – “New Owl”

BBC News www.bbc.co.uk

The measure is one part of a plan to reduce the waits of patients attending emergency departments.

It will be paid for using £24m of government money to help Devon’s hospitals discharge patients faster.  

There are also plans for virtual wards where clinical support can include remote monitoring using apps, wearables and medical devices.

Figures from Torbay, North Devon District, University Hospitals Plymouth and the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospitals show that hundreds of patients had to wait more than 12 hours to be seen last month.

Derriford Hospital in Plymouth will get £5m of the money as one of the six most challenged hospitals nationally.

It must be spent on radically reducing ambulance handover delays and includes plans to create more than 40 extra acute hospital beds, and the staff to cover them.

Torbay Hospital is to get 37 new beds, the RD&E gets 18 more, and North Devon District will get 11 additional beds, along with the additional staff needed.

All these plans were put before Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday.

Councillor Jess Bailey said she was waiting to see the effect of the changes before making a judgement.

“Additional funding is very much welcome but how is that actually going to translate into an improved service for our residents,” she said.

The plans also include 85 virtual hospital beds which will be introduced across the county, with plans for the first of them to go live in December.

They allow patients to remain at home if they wish to and communicate with their clinical team, who can remotely monitor observations like blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate.

How Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget hit UK economy – in numbers

It’s been a week since the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, delivered his “fiscal event”, heralding “a new approach for a new era” that left the Daily Mail cooing: “At last! A true Tory budget.”

Jamie Grierson www.theguardian.com

The impact of which has been devastating, with even the Tory-supporting Economist saying the government’s reckless incompetence may have already damaged it “beyond repair”. Here we look at the key figures that defined one of the worst probation periods in history.

£65bn

The Bank of England triggered an emergency £65bn bond-buying programme on Wednesday to stem the crisis triggered by Liz Truss and Kwarteng’s growth plan, which put entire pension funds at risk of insolvency.

4.3%

The yields on 10-year gilts – UK government bonds – surged after Kwarteng’s Friday announcement, rising from 3.5% to 4.3% before falling back to about 3.5% on Friday after the Bank of England’s intervention. Yields are effectively the cost of borrowing to an issuer, in this case the UK government. Rising bond yields suggest a lack of willingness among investors to own the debt, as buyers demand a lower price to buy them.

10.6%

The British Retail Consortium revealed food price inflation surged again to 10.6%, compared with an already staggering 9.3% last month.

232

The FTSE 100 has fallen by about 232 points since last Friday as jittery investors took flight.

33

Labour holds a 33-point lead over the Conservatives, according to a poll from YouGov. It is thought to be the largest poll lead held by a political party since the late 1990s. Labour is widely considered to have enjoyed a successful party conference, where it announced plans to form a publicly owned green energy company called Great British Energy.

1.03

The pound fell to a record low of 1.03 against the US dollar on Monday after Kwarteng doubled down on his £45bn package of tax cuts by pledging to go further. The pound-dollar was about 1.12 on the day of the mini-budget, hit its low on Monday, and has returned to close to 1.12 on Friday.

1,621

As of Thursday, spooked lenders had withdrawn 1,621 mortgage products from the market, according to Moneyfacts, amid uncertainty over the future trajectory of base rates and the lack of faith in the government’s plan.

Eight

The prime minister, Liz Truss, experienced a bruising round of eight BBC local radio interviews on Thursday morning. From Bristol to Stoke, and Lancashire to Kent, Truss was up against the ropes for much of the excruciating hour of exchanges, in which she frequently drifted off into uncomfortable silences, resorted to challenging “the premise of the question” and in many cases providing answers to questions that had not been asked.

[Now she is up for the Laura Kuenssberg interview spot on Sunday morning with Rachel Reeves for comparison]

Tories face Devon wipe-out as voters turn to Labour

In East Devon, a win is predicted for an Independent, based on the strong showing at the last General Election of Independent Claire Wright, but she has announced she is stepping back from politics.

Must be tempting though – Owl

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com 

The Tories would lose most of their Devon seats and be almost wiped out in the Westcountry if there was a General Election now. The latest survey on voting intentions shows Labour has the biggest lead over the Conservatives since the 1990s as electors respond to the Government’s handling of the economy and cost-of-living crisis.

The poll for YouGov and The Times gave Labour a 54% share of the vote, 33 points ahead of the Tories who dropped 7 points to 21%. The survey also suggests Keir Starmer’s Labour Party are taking votes from the Liberal Democrats, which would have a significant impact on the results in Devon where in many seats the Lib-Dems have been the main opposition.

Translating the poll results into the effect on Parliament shows Labour would have a majority of 346, leaving the Conservatives with just 61 MPs. Election Maps UK says it would mean the Conservatives losing every one of its six seats in Cornwall to Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

In Devon, the Conservatives would lose six seats mostly to Labour but hang on in North Devon, Totnes and Torbay. In East Devon, a win is predicted for an Independent, based on the strong showing at the last General Election of Independent Claire Wright, but she has announced she is stepping back from politics . Labour would see its two seats increase to eight, or nine if it took East Devon where they were in third place ahead of the Liberal Democrats in 2019.

The survey suggests that Tiverton and Honiton would go to Labour after the by-election win by Liberal Democrat Richard Foord over the Conservatives in June, following the resignation of Neil Parish. Labour were previously the runner-up to the Tories in 2019, but the Liberal Democrats swept to victory in what was seen as a protest vote against Boris Johnson and the Whitehall parties scandal.

The next General Election has to take place before the end of the current five-year term of the Parliament on December 17, 2024, so the Conservatives have two years to recover support. But the vote can be called earlier by the prime minister if MPs lose confidence in the Government. Meanwhile there are local council elections scheduled in May next year, which will be seen as a test of Liz Truss’s performance.

Labour’s Parliamentary candidate in Exeter, Steve Race, said people now viewed Labour as a “credible alternative government”. He said: “It’s clear that Liz Truss and her Tory government have lost control of the economy. The ‘mini-budget’ turned out to be a big and risky gamble with the economy that has not paid off, and threatens to hit households across Exeter and the South West. People are worried about their energy bills, they’re now worried about their pensions, and they’re worried about their future mortgage payments.”

Graphic showing voting intentions reported on September 28 and 29

Graphic showing voting intentions reported on September 28 and 29 (Image: YouGov)

YouGov said its poll carried out on Wednesday and Thursday this week showed Conservative support had dropped by 7 points, the Liberal Democrats were down 2 to a 7% share of the vote intention, Greens were down 1 to 6% and Reform UK were up 1 to 4%.

Commentators are blaming the slump in support for the Government on last week’s mini-budget, which saw £45billion of tax cuts for the richest funded by borrowing. That is said to have upset the international financial markets and led to a steep fall in the value of the pound, causing the Bank of England to step in to support the currency and increasing upward pressure on interest rates.

YouGov’s associate editor Patrick English commented: “The direct transfer of voters away from both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is the key reason for Labour’s record lead today. The context is of course very important – we are in the middle of a very negative news cycle for the government as they deal with the economic fallout from Friday’s deeply unpopular mini-budget, at the same time as Labour are enjoying increased coverage and exposure – including of popular policies such as the establishment of a public energy company – from their conference.

“Add to this long-term public frustration with the government’s handling of the cost of living and decreasing faith in the Conservative Party to handle the economy, and it all makes for a toxic public opinion environment for the government.”

Graphic showing voter intentions

Graphic showing voter intentions (Image: ElectionMapsUK/Flourish)

Asked about the Conservatives’ poor polling in the wake of the mini-budget, Treasury minister Andrew Griffith told Times Radio on Thursday: “I would welcome the increased scrutiny as a result of that poll, to be honest. We have had obviously a busy week laying out the details of our growth plan, making sure our energy package is in place from this Saturday when bills would otherwise have kicked in.

“But, also, we heard from Labour this week more powers for striking workers, so those who aren’t going to get their post delivered tomorrow, who aren’t going to be able to take their train, can reflect on that. We also heard how they want to increase the energy insecurity of this country – remember energy is the big headwind we are all dealing with – as a result of their desire to have a nationalised energy company and also turn off every last drop of North Sea gas by 2030. Hopefully we will see more scrutiny of that as well.”