WE’LL FIGHT THEM ON THE BEACHES (with Simon at Sidmouth)

Ministers are attempting to wrest control of the narrative on Britain’s sewage-strewn rivers and beaches by threatening water companies with unlimited fines.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey launched the government’s euphemistically titled “plan for cleaner and more plentiful water” in a speech yesterday morning.

Locally, Simon spins on the Sid: Simon “I would never vote to pollute our water” Jupp tries to take full credit for the “well timed” announcement from SSW of future investment plans to upgrade sewer overflows in Sidmouth and Tipton St John, alongside work to support nutrient neutrality in Axminster. [Sorry Exmouth, he seems to have deserted you! – Owl]

 “I have repeatedly called on South West Water to invest in East Devon. [Only after massive public protest – Owl]

“I’m really pleased they’ve listened to the case I have put forward on the floor of Parliament and in cross-party meetings with local councils.”

Time elapsed since the last Defra plan to tackle sewage: 221 days (or just over seven months). On August 26, the department (under George Eustice) announced its “toughest” targets yet on polluting water companies … guess they weren’t tough enough.

Yuck: If last year’s figures are anything to go by, you can expect raw sewage to pour into English rivers and seas 825 times during the course of today. Playbook recalls that angry constituent emails poured into Tory MPs’ inboxes in October 2021 (!) after they voted down an opposition amendment to the Environment Bill seeking to place a legal duty on companies to stop spills. Tory MPs were deeply unhappy about the backlash and it was enough to trigger a defensive social media campaign. [eg see above from Simon] This plan represents an attempt by the Tories to get on the front foot — but will it be enough?

Also worth noting: There are three national newspaper campaigns on this — the Telegraph’s Clean Rivers campaign, the Times’ Clean It Up campaign, and i and New Scientist’s joint Save Britain’s Rivers effort. It means there’s lots of press interest in (currently negative) stories about the problem … but also interest in touting any effective steps and signs of progress that will help these papers eventually claim victory (the Tel’s campaign has been running for over a year now). Coffey sets out today’s plans in a Telegraph op-ed.

Labour and the Lib Dems have long been trying to pooh-pooh the government’s record. Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon said today’s announcement is “nothing more than a shuffling of the deck chairs” and “a reheating of old failed measures.” The Lib Dems point out ministers have been talking about banning wet wipes containing plastic — one of today’s main announcements — for the past five years (the Mirror’s John Stevens writes it up). And the BBC notes the government decided against doing so after the last consultation. Defra aides insist the opposition’s demands for a speedy solution are impossible given the scale of the problem.  

From Politico London Playbook with local embellishments added