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  • by Karma Loveday

Peers grow impatient with storm overflows

Peers from across the House showed impatience with slow progress on storm overflows when they questioned Defra minister Lord Benyon last week.

Baroness Jones of Moulescoomb (Green Party) criticised the delay that has been allowed for water companies to produce their Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans and urged Ofwat be directed to block dividend payments and bonuses until water companies stop “pumping sewage into our chalk streams and rivers and on to our beaches”. Labour’s Lord Dubs called for jail terms for the leaders of repeat offender water companies.

Cross bencher, the Duke of Wellington, demanded a “greater sense of urgency” given there has been “so little progress since the passing of the Environment Act last year in reducing storm overflows and various other sewage discharges into our rivers”.

The Bishop of St Albans raised the public health risk of storm overflows, referring to “the story of Jayne Etherington, a 22 year-old who went swimming in Pembrokeshire, caught E. coli from sewage and landed up in hospital with serious damage to her organs”.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (Lib Dem) said “Fines do not appear to be a sufficient deterrent” and called for a shorter timeframe than the Government had proposed for solving the storm overflow problem.

Among his responses, Lord Benyon said his department was acting with urgency. But he added that complete surface water separation “would have an impact of £800 on the average bill, taking water bills from just over £400, or more than that, to about £1,230 a year. We have to think of people, particularly those who are nervous at a time of increasing household costs, and we have to get this right. It is easy to come here and say that ministers should be doing more, faster. We are working really hard to resolve this problem, but we have to be mindful of people’s bills.”


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