River Severn in winter
River Severn in winter

Unanimous support to clean up Shropshire’s rivers

Shropshire Council voted today to approve the Labour Group’s plans to hold water companies to account for discharging sewage into Shropshire’s rivers. Councillor Kate Halliday, who put forward the motion, says:

I am very pleased that I had support from councillors of all parties to take action with the water companies, and hope that this will have the effect of improving the quality of river water that the people and wildlife of Shropshire so rightly deserve.’

Many members of the public are extremely concerned about this issue, including anglers across the county and I can confirm that I received correspondence from Severn Trent yesterday acknowledging the motion and offering to meet with myself and colleagues, and so we are already having an impact.

In October of last year conservative MPs, including local Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawzcynski, voted to reject an amendment to the Environment Bill to hold water companies to account for dumping sewage. Following public outcry the Government made a U-turn and the Environment Bill was amended to place a legal duty on water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows.

However, it does not give water companies a timetable to invest and update the largely Victorian sewerage system, and there remains no legal duty on water companies to prevent sewage release.

In recent years the water quality has deteriorated. Environmentalists and anglers alike, are concerned that fish stocks have reduced by 60% in the last 10 years. Water firms discharged raw sewage into English waters 400,000 times last year, an increase of 27% on the previous year.

The Environmental Audit Committee report released today has found there are multiple failures in the monitoring, governance and enforcement on water quality.

The water utilities were privatised in 1989 and since then water bills have increased in real time by 40% and water companies have paid out £57 billion in dividends to shareholders (up until 2019. Yet since then water companies have collectively cut investment in wastewater and sewage networks by almost a fifth.

The Times is reporting this morning that The Environmental Audit Committee’s report will single out the Chief Executive of Severn Trent, who was paid £2.8 million in 2020, including £1.9 million in bonuses, of making a ‘disingenuous claim’ in her evidence to the committee that storm overflow discharges were ‘pretty much already rainwater’. The Committee clarifies that the discharges can be highly contaminated with raw sewage – and is calling on Ofwat to examine its powers with a view to limiting awards of significant annual bonuses to water company senior executives in the event of major or persistent breaches in permit conditions.

Since 2010 Grant in Aid funding from the Government to the Environment Agency has reduced from 120 million to 40 million leading to a reduction in front line officers and workforce to inspect water quality incidents.

Councillor Kate Halliday added

There has been ongoing disinvestment in sewerage infrastructure, together with ongoing cuts to the environment agency over the last 10 years, and we have a mountain to climb to reverse these changes. Hopefully we will begin to improve the qualify of our rivers in Shropshire following the council’s vote to scrutinise the issue with the water companies today. This is a good day for Shropshire’s rivers’

For more information contact

Kate Halliday 07458117536



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