There’s a foul smell at Westminster these days.
Last week it was the botched attempt to bury Owen Paterson’s wrongdoings, it came hot on the heels of Tory MPs being whipped against measures to prevent water companies from pumping raw sewage into our rivers.
The practice is allowed, providing they have a permit, as a measure to prevent flooding in exceptional circumstances, but companies don’t always play by the rules.
Our sewers are a problem as most date back to Victorian times. For years there’s been insufficient investment, falling from £3.5 billion in 1974 to £1.8 billion by 1985. Mrs Thatcher’s solution was to privatise the industry.
A year after privatisation, she was forced to introduce an EU directive requiring companies to treat raw sewage at a time when Britain had the dirtiest beaches in Europe.
Having left the EU, the criticism is that our regulator (Ofwat) isn’t tough enough and the Environment Agency’s been so starved of resources that it can’t play the watchdog role we need.
Tory MPs were strong-armed to vote against water companies being prevented from discharging untreated sewage. Following a backlash, the PM offered a limited U-turn, but I couldn’t vote for it because it simply didn’t go far enough, especially from a PM who thought dumping raw sewage wasn’t a problem in the first place.
I’ve written to Severn Trent to find out what they’re up to. They have one of the better reputations but that didn’t stop them being fined £800,000 for pumping millions of litres of raw sewage into the River Brook.
Chief Executive Liv Garfield claims they’ve cleaned up their act but admits there are too many discharges.
There are techniques, including sustainable drainage systems which slow and divert water, using wetlands, ponds and green ditches or flushless toilets which treat waste by filtering it through membranes and sterilising it with heat. A by-product of which is renewable, green biogas energy.
However, it costs money while profits are split between investment and shareholder demands.
When it comes to water, surely a responsible government should whip its MPs to put health before dividends.