UK govt sets out new water plan to tackle pollution

UK govt sets out new water plan to tackle pollution

Privatised UK water companies have been releasing raw sewage into rivers and along beaches
Privatised UK water companies have been releasing raw sewage into rivers and along beaches. Photo: Ben Stansall / AFP
Source: AFP

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Britain on Tuesday announced a plan to protect water supplies, amid a long-running scandal over privatised water firms pumping raw sewage into rivers and onto seashores.

The plan comes amid a continuing sewage scandal, which closed several UK beaches at the height of the heatwave last summer.

The Conservative government said its "Plan for Water" would seek more investment from water companies, stronger regulation and tougher fines for polluters.

It includes a consultation on a ban on wet wipes containing plastic which are blamed for causing sewer blockages when flushed down the toilet.

It also brings forward £1.6 billion ($2.0 billion) of water infrastructure investment by 2025, although opponents argued this was not new cash.

The announcement received a cautious welcome from some quarters but was condemned as little more than window dressing in others.

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"We are strengthening regulation and tightening enforcement," Environment Secretary Therese Coffey wrote in the right-wing Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"That means increasing inspections, linking shareholder pay-outs to environmental performance, and handing down potentially unlimited penalties for a wider range of offences more quickly."

Antiquated sewage system

But Coffey cautioned there would be no quick fix to replumb Britain's antiquated Victorian sewage system.

The Wildlife Trusts, a grouping of nature conservation charities, gave the news a cautious welcome.

"This investment is imperative," said Ali Morse, water policy manager at The Wildlife Trusts.

"Water companies develop long-term plans for water supply and wastewater, which include environmental improvements, but these are set to happen over decades. Our waters and wildlife cannot wait."

However, the main opposition Labour party has blasted the government for a lack of new measures to tackle years of water pollution.

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"This announcement is nothing more than ... a reheating of old, failed measures that simply give the green light for sewage dumping to continue for decades to come," said Labour's environment spokesman Jim McMahon.

"There's nothing in it that tells us how, if or when they will end the Tory sewage scandal."

Feargal Sharkey, a figurehead of the anti-sewage campaign, said it was the third time in five years that the government had said it would ban wet wipes.

"And as for the £1.6bn investment? Does that now replace the £3.1bn announced last year or the £2.7bn announced before that or the £12bn announced before that?" he queried on Twitter.

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Source: AFP

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