MP challenges Environment Secretary to fast track plans to stop water companies “marking their own homework” on sewage discharges

31 Jan 2024
Tim outside Ambleside WwTW

This afternoon, Cumbrian MP Tim Farron has written to DEFRA Secretary Steven Barclay urging him to bring forward plans to prevent water companies for being responsible for reporting on whether they are illegally polluting rivers and lakes such as the rivers Eden and Kent, and Windermere lake.

Last week, the Secretary of State told water firms in England that they will no longer be able to monitor and report on pollution from their own treatment works. However the minister he had given no timescale for when this would happen.

The system, which has been criticised for allowing water companies to “mark their own homework”, was introduced more than 10 years ago, ending the practice by which Environment Agency officials carried out all the testing of treatment works and sewage discharges.

In 2021, a former professor of computational biology at University College London told MPs that illegal sewage discharges by water companies were at least 10 times higher than monitoring figures suggest.

Steven Barclay is not the first Conservative minister to promise an end to the practice. Rebecca Pow, as an environment minister, promised to end operator self-monitoring three years ago, but no action was taken.

Writing to Mr Barclay, Tim said: “Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for water companies to be stopped from marking their own homework and so I’m glad that the Government have finally been dragged kicking and screaming to end this practice.

“However, I am concerned to see no concrete details yet of when you will introduce this change and how it will be funded.

“It is estimated that illegal sewage discharges by water companies have been at least 10 times higher than monitoring figures suggest, so it’s absolutely vital that the Environment Agency are given the resources and funding to take this over as soon as possible.

“It is also really important that the monitoring undertaken by the Environment Agency will be funded by the unearned and unjustified profits of these water companies, rather than forcing the cash-strapped taxpayer to pay for it.

“Please will you commit the Government to bring forward these plans to Parliament as a matter of urgency.”