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New plan a ‘missed opportunity’ to urgently tackle sewage discharges

A new Government plan to prevent sewage being pumped into country’s rivers, lakes and seas is a ‘missed opportunity to urgently tackle the huge damage being done to our precious water environments’.

Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson says the newly-published Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan needs ‘far more ambitious targets’.

The plan aims to reduce the amount of storm overflows discharging sewage into waterways.

It comes following a huge public outcry at the poor quality of England’s rivers, lakes and seas and high profile instances of sewage pollution closing beaches across the country.

The scale of the problem is vast, with water and sewage companies reporting 372,533 spillages in 2021 for more than 2.6 million hours.

Only 16 per cent of England’s rivers and coasts meet the minimum ‘good’ ecological status.

Jane said: “Building on the requirements set out in the Environment Act, there are some positive steps around better monitoring of discharges, which will be crucial to give an accurate picture of the health of our waterways in real time.

“The recognition of the need for increased support for nature-based solutions to keep storm water out of sewers is also welcome.

More ambitious targets

“However, overall the plan set out by the Government feels like yet another missed opportunity to urgently tackle the huge damage being done to our precious water environments, wildlife and to protect the health of those whose enjoy the water for recreation.”

Under the plan, water companies will have to improve storm overflows discharging into or near, every designated bathing water site by 2035.

This will apply to all remaining storm overflows by 2050.

Jane added: “What was needed were far more ambitious targets.

“Only half of overflows will be improved by 2040 and we continue to believe this is too far in the future.

“With the Government’s prioritisation of protecting designated bathing waters, this highlights once again the importance of our calls for more inland waters to be granted bathing water designation.

“Currently only two stretches of river have such a designation and we continue to push for far more inland sites to both send a clear message that these locations should be open for people to enjoy and to help drive the environmental improvements that are so desperately needed.”

The Government has announced it will review the Plan in 2027 to determine whether it can go further and faster.