The Government made a preemptive move to thwart Labour’s pollution debate on Tuesday by announcing their own, improved, plans.
But it amounts to very little:
A target published last year will be made legally binding one But the goal in question is for 2050.
Yes you read it correctly 2050, more than a quarter of a century in the future. Hope you’re still around to see this through and be able to swim safely in our rivers and seas Simon!
Targets on curbing the spills from storm overflows, before that, will not yet become law. I.e. will remain just targets.
The Conservatives have overseen underinvestment by the water industry and a gutting of environmental regulation capacity.
If Coffey and colleagues want to avoid public frustration over water spilling into a general election campaign, they will need to do better.
Sewage spill law is progress but Tories must do more
Adam Vaughan www.thetimes.co.uk
‘Shameful”, “revolting”, “disgusting”, “scandalous” and an “absolute catastrophe” — MPs from across the political spectrum queued up yesterday to see who could express the strongest outrage about water pollution, and argue about who personally cared the most about ending the problem.
Labour held a Commons debate to put Tory MPs in the lose-lose position of backing an opposition bill on sewage solutions or being seen to vote against it. Largely, the parliamentary exchange generated more froth than clear water.
Jim McMahon, the shadow environment secretary, berated ministers for the economic and environmental hazards of a raw sewage spill roughly every two and a half minutes. Thérèse Coffey’s rejoinder as environment secretary was that we know about the problem only because of monitoring her party brought in, and to attack Labour’s record on water quality in Wales. However, the stunt did have the welcome effect of pushing the government to make a pre-emptive strike. As The Times was first to report, Coffey promised to enshrine in law a key target for effectively ending the sewage spills that outraged MPs. That is good news.
This newspaper’s Clean It Up campaign has been calling for stronger regulation, so making a target published last year a legally binding one is progress. But the goal in question is for 2050, a conveniently pain-free option for today’s government. Other, earlier targets on curbing the spills from storm overflows will not yet become law.
The targets in the storm discharge reduction plan fall short in other respects. The Times wants to see the earlier goals, for 2035 and 2045, either brought forward or strengthened. Some water bosses, such as Liv Garfield of Severn Trent, agree.
Sewage spills from storm overflows are very visible and rightly anger people. But they are far from the only reason why only 16 per cent of England’s rivers and waterways are in a good ecological condition. Yesterday’s pledge and Coffey’s recent Plan for Water suggest the government is starting to get serious about tightening the screws on water companies. But on the pollution of rivers by farming, Coffey and colleagues still have huge strides to make, as Britain’s three biggest conservation groups have pointed out.
Yes, the Conservatives improved monitoring. But they also oversaw underinvestment by the water industry and a gutting of environmental regulation capacity. If Coffey and colleagues want to avoid public frustration over water spilling into a general election campaign, they will need to do better.
Adam Vaughan is environment editor