LONDON: Britain on Tuesday (Apr 4) announced a plan to protect water supplies, amid a long-running scandal over privatised water firms pumping raw sewage into rivers and onto seashores.
The plan comes amid a continuing pollution scandal, which saw waste water discharges spark the closure of a number of UK beaches at the height of the heatwave last summer.
The Conservative government said its proposals would “clean up our waters and ensure a plentiful supply for the future”.
The “Plan for Water” will seek more investment from water companies, stronger regulation and tougher fines for polluters, it added.
The initiative includes a consultation on a ban on wet wipes containing plastic, which are blamed for causing sewer blockages when flushed down the toilet.
And it will bring forward £1.6 billion (US$2 billion) of water infrastructure investment to start between now and 2025, although opponents argued this was not new cash.
The announcement received a cautious welcome from some quarters but was condemned as little more than window dressing in others.
“We are strengthening regulation and tightening enforcement,” Environment Secretary Therese Coffey wrote in the right-wing Daily Telegraph newspaper.
“That means increasing inspections, linking shareholder pay-outs to environmental performance, and handing down potentially unlimited penalties for a wider range of offences more quickly.”
The fines would be reinvested into a new Water Restoration Fund to support local groups and community-led schemes to clean up waterways.
ANTIQUATED SEWAGE SYSTEM
Coffey cautioned however that there would be no quick fix to replumb Britain’s antiquated Victorian sewage system.
The Wildlife Trusts, a grouping of nature conservation charities, gave the news a cautious welcome.
“This investment is imperative and we urge government to ensure that projects begin as soon as possible,” said Ali Morse, water policy manager at The Wildlife Trusts.
“Water companies develop long-term plans for water supply and wastewater, which include environmental improvements, but these are set to happen over decades. Our waters and wildlife cannot wait.”
However, the main opposition Labour party has blasted the government for a lack of new measures to tackle years of water pollution.
“This announcement is nothing more than a shuffling of the deck chairs and a reheating of old, failed measures that simply give the green light for sewage dumping to continue for decades to come,” said Jim McMahon, Labour environment spokesman.
“This is the third sham of a Tory water plan since the summer. There’s nothing in it that tells us how, if or when they will end the Tory sewage scandal.”
Green Party co-leader Adrian Ramsay added: “The actions are too little too late and still leave the water industry in private hands, able to profit from failure.”
Feargal Sharkey, a figurehead of the campaign to prevent water companies polluting rivers and coasts with sewage, pointed out on Twitter it was the third time in five years that the government had said it would ban wet wipes.
“And as for the £1.6 billion investment? Does that now replace the £3.1 billion announced last year or the £2.7 billion announced before that or the £12 billion announced before that?” queried the former punk rock star.