Members of Parliament in the UK have supported calls for water industry regulator Ofwat to do more to ensure water companies stop polluting rivers.
MPs of all parties backed demands from campaigning groups including the Rivers Trust, Surfers Against Sewage and the Angling Trust when they debated the Government’s instructions to Ofwat, known as the Strategic Policy Statement (SPS).
Philip Dunne MP, a champion for clean rivers, and new Angling Trust Chairman Sir Charles Walker MP led the debate.
“Campaigning groups up and down the country, with which I have been working, have for some time been focused on raising awareness and urging the Government to take action to compel change in the behaviour and performance of water companies,” said Dunne.
“We called for the next SPS to make it unambiguously clear to Ofwat that a step change in regulatory action and water company investment is urgently required to upgrade the sewerage network, improve the parlous state of water quality in English rivers and restore freshwater biodiversity.”
Charles Walker, Chairman of the all-party group on angling, compared anglers to canaries in a coal mine. “They are the first to raise the alarm when there is a pollution incident. Fish Legal [the legal arm of the Angling Trust] has some fantastic lawyers who go after the polluters, and that is what we need, because I am fed up as an angler.”
Last September the Angling Trust highlighted the need for tougher regulation and greater investment in the UK’s ‘creaking and leaking’ wastewater infrastructure in its Broken Water Sector Report, published jointly with Salmon and Trout Conservation.
A number of the report’s recommendations have been taken up by the Government, with a far stronger requirement for Ofwat to consider environmental impacts when making decisions on investment programmes.
Other Angling Trust demands were for the Government to reconsider the size of fines issued to offending water companies, the idea of a National Rivers Restoration Fund paid for, in part, by water industry fines, and for property developers to ensure that sewerage networks are able to cope with the demands that new housing places on it.
“From personal experience I know how important debates like this can be in shaping policy,” said former MP Martin Salter, Head of Policy at the Angling Trust. “The minister had no choice but to acknowledge the case made given the strength of feeling expressed by MPs of all parties.
“We will be seeking an early meeting with Rebecca Pow to see how these fine words can be turned into action.” The Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow MP, pledged to work with MPs and stakeholders to examine the proposals in more detail.