13 Jul 2021

Every water and sewerage company in England has missed its environmental targets

Chief Correspondent

Every water and sewerage company in England has missed its environmental targets, a report by the industry regulator has found.

Punk-singer-turned-water-campaigner Feargal Sharkey told Channel 4 News that there needs to be an overhaul of the entire system of water protection after the “damning” report by the Environment Agency.

He said: “Every river in the country is polluted. An awful lot of that is directly as a result of sewage from the water industry and, as much as this report is damning for the water industry, it is an equally damning end of term report for regulators and government.”

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “We’re seeing sewage pollution going into blue flag beaches and many of our country’s best beaches where people like to surf, swim and have their holidays.”

The Environment Agency found that while there have been fewer pollution incidents, none of the utilities companies achieved the environmental expectations set out for 2015 – 2020.

The findings follow last week’s record £90 million fine for Southern Water for illegally dumped sewage.

Channel 4 News can reveal that since the fine the company has been responsible for numerous discharges from sewer overflows.

Dr Alison Hoyle, Southern Water’s director of risk and compliance, said the company is in the middle of a continuing “cultural and operational transformation” and they recognised there is “more to do”.

She added: “We now lead the industry in self-reporting pollution, thanks to continuing investment in IT, telemetry, people and processes and underlining the commitments to openness and transparency we have made.”

The industry trade body Water UK said its members are investing a further £5 billion on environmental improvements over the next few years.

David Jarrad, chief executive of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, said a majority of “illegal dumping” incidents are only recorded if the water companies self-report.

He said: “Sadly this doesn’t always happen. It’s a bit like saying Joe Public should report every time they go over 70 miles an hour to the local police. It ain’t going to happen.”

Christine McGourty, Chief Executive of Water UK, said: “This year’s Environmental Performance Assessment shows a record 5 companies in England achieving the highest possible 4-star rating for their environmental performance, while serious pollution incidents have also fallen to their lowest level ever.

“This means that the majority of water and sewerage companies are now defined as ‘industry leading’ by their independent environment regulator, a significant step forward and a reflection of the commitment and focus that water companies place on protecting and enhancing the environment.”