Cambridge Green Party response to the government's consultation on measures to improve water quality

12 May 2022

Government has consulted on its plans to tackle storm overflows in England. Storm overflows are "safety valves built into the combined sewer system to discharge excess sewage to rivers, lakes, or the sea when rainfall exceeds capacity. This protects properties from flooding and prevents sewage backing up into streets and homes during heavy storm events." The amount of sewage being discharged into our rivers is a growing cause for concern and this plan is important because it sets out what government is going to do about it.

Cambridge Green Party sent a response to the consultation, summarised below. There is also a helpful briefing by the Rivers Trust here.

Cambridge Green Party response to the government consultation

We do not agree with the package of targets as a whole. As per the recent briefing from The Rivers Trust:

  • the plan is too narrow in its scope, only giving targets for water companies
  • the timeline for action lacks ambition and is out of step with other proposed government environment targets on pollution reduction and nature’s recovery
  • under the plan half of storm overflows would still be spilling untreated sewage in 2040;
  • it lacks targets for the government to implement enabling legislation and regulations as recommended by MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) and by the Defra Taskforce on Storm Overflows.

Further comments:

Thank you for the opportunity of responding to this consultation and the recognition of the urgency needed to protect our environment and public health.

We understand the enormity of the task but worry that there may be slippage in the timescales identified.  Are there other measures which could be used to set target dates to hasten delivery, other than the five year water Industry investment cycles?

Our concern in the Greater Cambridge region is the many outline planning permissions on major developments which will be granted imminently.  It seems a pity not to integrate new developments, particularly into the plan.  Surely this would provide an opportunity to implement the sustainable water management infrastructure which will be needed.  Where will the links be made between the infrastructure and planning system? To date, water and sewerage planning have been very uncoordinated.  You think the lack of dual piping from houses is not fit for purpose as it treats our water as if it was sewage and this increases the cost both financially and carbon-wise.  This must be a planning condition for all new developments and as regards Greater Cambridge future planning, this hasn't been a significant feature.

The Cambridge Green Party would like to add that it endorses the work of Cam Valley Forum based here in Cambridgeshire which is an organisation set up to support the vital work of protecting and enhancing the environment of the river Cam and its tributaries.  This Spring CVF successfully sampled a storm overflow event from Haslingfield Sewage Treatment Works.  Their results demonstrate that such events are of real concern and we urge that improvements are are carried out quickly and effectively.  You can find their report here

Finally, The Cambridge Green Party do agree with paying more for water in principle as water shortage and sewage pollution are acting very badly on our freshwater ecology and we're very short of water in this region.  However, we still need to be mindful of yet another cost being added on top of the high fuel costs and household bills already being quite unmanageable for many British people. This could be by done via a flat rate which those on low income are exempt from or applying a levy proportional to income. 

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