Thérèse Coffey singles out water company for sewage spills

Aren’t the Government and South West Water “tarred by the same brush” so to speak ? – Owl



Adam Vaughan, Environment Editor

Thérèse Coffey has singled out South West Water for her anger over sewage being spilled in rivers and the sea.

It is rare for ministers to attack individual companies for their record on water pollution, but Coffey, the environment secretary, told MPs that she was annoyed about the firm’s record on dumping sewage, calling it unacceptable.

South West Water, which provides sewage services to Devon, Cornwall and a small part of Dorset and Somerset, is being investigated by Ofwat. The water regulator has said the number of storm overflows spilling sewage is “shocking”.

Speaking to the environmental audit committee of MPs, Coffey said: “I’m particularly vexated by one of the water companies where they have 10 per cent of their storm discharge overflows spilling out more than 100 times a year. That’s not acceptable. I know the Environment Agency is working with that water company in particular to try and assess that.”

She did not mention South West Water by name. However, the most recent official data on storm overflows discharges, for 2021, shows it is the only wastewater company to have more than 10 per cent of its overflows spilling more than 100 times a year. The figure for South West Water is 10.4 per cent. United Utilities, which covers the north west of England, is the only other company that comes close, at 9.5 per cent.

Coffey also took a swipe at football pundit Gary Lineker, branding him irresponsible for sharing a Liberal Democrat tweet about water pollution. The tweet, which came after MPs voted on putting water quality targets into law last month, said Tory MPs “had voted to allow sewage dumping by water companies in our rivers and coasts for at least 15 more years”. Lineker had retweeted the post and said: “Why on earth would you do this?”

Coffey told the select committee: “I’m conscious Gary Lineker has a lot of fans for his football commentary and love of crisps. But . . . just retweeting a . . . false social media message put out by the Liberal Democrats was not particularly responsible. That’s his choice. But it just doesn’t help, people peddling nonsense.”

Conservative MPs have privately rounded on Coffey over the claim they had voted for sewage dumping. The Spectator reported that one Tory MP told her “we have walked into another social media drive-by on sewage because nobody thought to look for the obvious bear traps in advance”.

Coffey has come in for criticism from some quarters on her record on water pollution since taking up her role in October last year. Lord Hollick, chairman of the House of Lords regulators committee and a Labour supporter, put it to her last month that her department had “left consumers up shit creek” on the issue.

She has subsequently insisted that she does “give a shit” about water pollution, and has promised a “plan for water” later this year. “Like many campaigners, I want to see cleaner rivers, I want to see cleaner oceans,” she told MPs today.

South West Water and the Liberal Democrats were contacted for comment.

Otterton Mill wins two Golds in regional awards

Owners say beavers have made enormous difference to the risk of flooding to the site.

Philippa Davies

Otterton Mill has been rewarded with two Golds in the latest Taste of the West Awards.

Its café-restaurant achieved Gold for the eighth year running, and its farm shop also won Gold for the second time, having entered for the first time last year.

The regional awards are assessed using secret shoppers and diners. The independent judges commented on Otterton Mill’s commitment to local sourcing, high quality produce and knowledgeable friendly staff.

Owners Chris and Carol Wright, who have been running the Mill since 2015, said they are ‘delighted’ with its continued success, and the way the awards recognise all their hard-working staff.

But there is another busy group whose work behind the scenes is contributing to Otterton Mill’s strength as a business. According to Chris, the River Otter beavers have made an enormous difference by reducing the flood risk to the site.

Before Chris and Carol took over, Otterton Mill was plagued by flooding, with a particularly bad incident in 2012 which led to it being closed for two months. Flooding was still a regular occurrence when the Wrights arrived in 2015, but Chris said he had noticed a definite change in the following years as the River Otter’s beaver population expanded.

He said: “When you get a lot of rain the problem is when you get it hitting the river too quickly. Those beavers are slowing down how quickly it hits the main watercourse because it’s held up in all these ditches and things they’ve created their dams in. I used to be here all the time dealing with floods, but now I’m very rarely here due to flooding, The beavers have definitely, definitely made a difference, it just doesn’t hit us so quickly.”

Of course, the Lower Otter Restoration Project is also alleviating flooding in the area, but Chris said the beavers got there first.

He said: “We’ve noticed a difference 2017-18-19 onwards, before the scheme. I think the LORP will just improve the situation even more.

“The beavers didn’t necessarily help us win a Gold, though! It’s a very good team here at the Mill and it’s great to be recognised for doing a good job, and this is what the awards do for everyone involved in our business here.”

Voter ID in elections ‘a challenge to local democracy’ – Paul Arnott

Paul Arnott, leader, East Devon District Council

Here in East Devon, many of us are fortunate to live in or near happy valleys. The Axe, Otter, Sid, Exe et al have dominated our topography since the Ice Age. Last Sunday, the BBC’s own Yorkshire-set Happy Valley series came to a universally acclaimed end.

For those still to catch up, I will steer well away from any spoilers and will only make two comments about side issues which interested me. Sarah Lancashire was of course brilliant, but it was James Norton whose career was revived. Three years back he was a shoo-in as the next Bond. Then he was directed to deliver a plank of wood performance in McMafia and serious doubts arose. Happy Valley proved beyond doubt that he can act, and that he has that glint of savagery 007 always needs.

My second comment is about the Knežević brothers, a brilliantly played family of criminals who weaved in and out of the plot. Because series 3 revealed that having become wealthy in drugs and money laundering they were now planning to have a go as local councillors.

At last, I thought, to the groans of my wife and one daughter back for a few days, a drama with local councillors at the centre of it. Author Sally Wainwright clearly shared their perspective, though, because she took this plotline no further. As someone who works on and off in television, I see the problem. Imagine pitching a new drama series. “Ok, so it’s about two people having an illicit affair.” One can imagine a drama commissioner’s ears pricking up as you start the pitch. “And they’re both local councillors!” I suspect the meeting would be over within five minutes.

However, as you’d expect, I believe that local councillors play a key role in the pyramid of democracy, but sadly I have to report a challenge put in democracy’s way deliberately by the government. On the basis of no evidence at all, condemned across the board, they are insisting on introducing Voter Identification at the District and Town/Parish elections in May.

It’s more populist nonsense from the people who brought you three prime ministers in about five months, the first two now blaming everyone but themselves for their downfalls. Liz Truss named ‘the financial markets’ only this weekend, as if their existence came as a surprise to her, with Boris Johnson giving his latest iffy spin to the adoring Nadine Dorries on the fourth-rate TV station, GB News.

Therefore, on 4th May in East Devon we have the first local council elections ever held demanding that voters bring with them a form of photographic identity such as a passport or a driving licence. Needless to say, many millions possess neither.

This right-wing brainwave claims to wish to make elections safer, yet every expert organisation, such as the Electoral Reform Society, has confirmed that the phenomenon of someone impersonating someone else to cast a vote in person is more or less non-existent.

In reality, fraud through the postal vote system has always been much more of a threat. That’s where resources are needed, not making the lovely people who work at polling stations from 7am till 10pm on election days have to perform the role of amateur passport controllers. The government doesn’t care, because those who have neither a driving licence or a passport are much more likely not to vote Tory.

If you are one such person who does not have photo ID, and there will be hundreds, perhaps thousands in East Devon, you can either apply for a postal vote or, to vote in person, register for a Voter Authority Certificate through East Devon District Council. We have created a special link on our website which is Please spread the word. Thank you.

Simon Jupp’s big day cancelled

Simon Jupp was scheduled to have been leading a Westminster Hall debate on the performance of South West Water yesterday at 0930. But he got cancelled, a victim of force majeure as President Zelenskyy paid a surprise visit to the Houses of Parliament.

PS. We need Simon PPS to get this debate rescheduled urgently.

Background /research-briefings/cdp-2023-0029/

Performance of South West Water – House of Commons Library

Regulatory and policy framework

There are three main regulatory bodies that monitor the performance of water companies in England:

  • Ofwat, the economic regulator;
  • The Environment Agency, the environmental regulator; and
  • The Drinking Water Inspectorate, the drinking water quality regulator.

As part of its role as economic regulator Ofwat limits the prices that water companies can charge customers. Prices are reviewed every five years and, during the review process, water companies commit to delivering certain service levels. Performance commitments cover various areas, including customer service and environmental protection.

The Government provides policy direction to Ofwat through strategic policy statements, which set long-term priorities for the water industry. Ofwat must act in accordance with the statements when carrying out its duties, including when agreeing performance commitments with water companies.

Water companies must also comply with a range of environmental legislation and targets. For example, the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan requires water companies to eliminate the adverse environmental impact of sewage discharges by 2050.

Assessments of South West Water’s performance

Ofwat and the Environment Agency publish annual reports measuring water companies’ performance against their performance level commitments and environmental obligations.

In their most recent reports, covering performance in 2021, both regulators gave South West Water (SWW) their lowest performance rating. They highlighted the number of pollution incidents as a particular area of concern. SWW was also criticised for a lack of capital investment.

As a result of Ofwat’s assessment the company will be required to pay a fine of £13.3 million in the form of lower bills for consumers.

This pack contains information on Government policy on water companies’ performance, performance measures and ratings, special performance measures, and water bills, as well as recent Parliamentary material and news items. 

Documents to download