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Row erupts over river sewage plan vote



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Environmental campaigners have condemned several Norfolk MPs who voted against placing a new duty on water companies to reduce raw sewage discharges into rivers.

But the MPs have hit back, claiming their position has been misrepresented.

The vote took place on Wednesday evening last week and was on a House of Lords amendment to the government’s Environment Bill.

There has been an angry response to MPs' rejection of a plan to ban the discharge of sewage into rivers.
There has been an angry response to MPs' rejection of a plan to ban the discharge of sewage into rivers.

Section 141A of amendment 45 of the bill would have seen water companies forced to “demonstrate improvements in the sewerage systems and progressive reductions in the harm caused by untreated sewage discharges”.

But that was successfully opposed by 265 Conservative MPs.

However, the government has however committed to produce a report setting out the actions that would be needed to eliminate discharges from storm overflows in England, and the costs and benefits of those actions, with both publications required before 1 September 2022.

Extinction Rebellion activists staged a protest on river pollution in the Walks in Lynn. Picture: XR KL (52583161)
Extinction Rebellion activists staged a protest on river pollution in the Walks in Lynn. Picture: XR KL (52583161)

The bill will return to the Lords and then MPs again for further scrutiny.

Great Ryburgh-based environmental campaigner Jennifer Lonsdale said she was “really surprised” by the decision.

Commenting in her capacity as a local resident, Ms Lonsdale said she hoped future work on the bill would “be done in a collaborative way, with the understanding that this problem has to be tackled, because we can’t afford to ruin our rivers.”

Speaking on BBC Radio Norfolk on Monday morning, Jason Borthwick, who runs Deepdale Farm in Burnham Deepdale said he was “so angry and disappointed” and that “proper investment” was needed for the nation’s sewage infrastructure.

James Wild is one of the MPs who has defended his stance.
James Wild is one of the MPs who has defended his stance.

“It’s just an absolute outrage, because if we don’t have a beautiful environment, the vast majority of Norfolk’s economy just implodes, because most of our economy is built around the visitor economy,” said Mr Borthwick.

But, in a statement on his website, the North West Norfolk MP James Wild, who was one of the MPs to reject the amendment, claimed the vote had been the subject of "inaccurate coverage".

He said: He wrote: “While the aim is one that I support in principle the difficulty is that it came with no plan to deliver it and with no impact assessment.

“Of course, you could argue that a plan can be formulated afterwards. That may be reasonable if we are talking about a simple, inexpensive issue.

“However, eliminating storm overflows involves transforming a system that has been in operation since the Victorian era.”

He added: “It may well be that a further amendment returns from the House of Lords that is workable and addresses the flaws in the previous proposal and, if so, I will consider that on its merits.”

Meanwhile, in a Facebook post, North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker said the amendment would require most of the country's existing sewage system to be reinstalled and would see sewage discharged onto land instead.

He wrote: “Initial assessments suggest a cost of more than £150 billion to £600 billion for a complete separation of sewerage systems, leading to potentially significant disruption for homes, businesses and infrastructure across the country. Clearly this is just not feasible.

“If we accepted the amendment as currently written, nearly all existing sewage systems in place would be outlawed overnight and so we will be debating this issue further so that we can ensure we protect our waters but also enable our current sewage system to legally operate.”



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