Ministers treating coastal areas like ‘open sewers’, says Labour

By Donna Ferguson

A sewage overflow pipe on Borth beach on the Cardigan Bay coast.

Ministers have treated coastal communities as if they are “open sewers”, Labour has said, after a damaging analysis of Environment Agency (EA) data revealed sewage was dumped for almost a million hours last year.

In total, the data – from the website Top of the Poops, which collates Environment Agency statistics at a constituency level – shows 141,777 sewage-dumping events occurred across 137 constituencies on the coasts of England and Wales in 2022.

This analysis found sewage was dumped once every three minutes and 45 seconds in 2022, adding up to a combined total of 980,999 hours of discharges last year.

The shadow environment secretary, Jim McMahon, said people who live by the coast “should be able to just enjoy the place where they live without having to worry about encountering filthy raw sewage”.

He added: “That the Tories have allowed villages, towns and cities across the country to be treated as open sewers shows that they have no respect for places where people live, work and holiday.”

The coastal constituency of Torridge and West Devon was found to have had the highest total hours of sewage discharge, at 57,494 hours.

The EA revealed at the end of last month that there were more than 300,000 raw discharges into rivers and coastal areas in 2022, lasting for more than 1.75m hours. Keir Starmer accused the government of “turning Britain’s waterways into an open sewer”.

On 21 April, MPs will debate a private member’s bill, put forward by McMahon, which Labour says would curb sewage discharges by 2030. It includes proposals to automatically fine companies for sewage dumping and implement legally binding reduction targets.

The party has previously said it would introduce a legally binding target to end 90% of sewage discharges by 2030 and stronger sanctions and fines for water bosses and companies who fail to do so.

“The next Labour government will build a better Britain, ending the Tory sewage scandal by delivering mandatory monitoring on all sewage outlets, introducing automatic fines for discharges, setting ambitious targets for stopping systematic sewage dumping and ensuring that water bosses are held to account for negligence,” said McMahon.

A senior Conservative party source said the Tories had brought in widespread monitoring of the issue, and said sewage was dumped more frequently under Labour in Wales.

EA figures released last month show that last year across England, sewage discharges fell by 19%, down to a total of 301,091 spills. However, the drop was largely due to dry weather and not action taken by water companies, the agency said.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “We have introduced compulsory monitoring, set the strictest targets ever on water companies to reduce discharges and required them to deliver the largest infrastructure programme in their history.

“The environment secretary has demanded an action plan on every storm overflow from every company in England, prioritising those near bathing waters.

“We are also consulting to give regulators more powers to impose much larger penalties for polluters without needing to go to court.”


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