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River sewage U-turn is 'pathetic', says West Norfolk campaigner

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A West Norfolk businessman has branded ministers “pathetic” as a row over the discharge of continues sewage into rivers continues.

Tory MPs have faced mounting criticism in recent days after refusing to back an amendment to the Environment Bill which would have forced water companies to end the practice.

North West Norfolk MP James Wild, together with county neighbours Duncan Baker, Jerome Mayhew and Chloe Smith, were among the 265 Conservative MPs to reject the amendment.

Gaywood River in The Walks, King's Lynn (52347873)
Gaywood River in The Walks, King's Lynn (52347873)

But, in comments to broadcasters on Tuesday evening, environment secretary George Eustice said the government now supports water companies being required by law to show a reduction in sewage overspills over the next five years.

Jason Borthwick, owner of Deepdale Farm in Burnham Deepdale, said he was less than impressed by the new policy announcement.

“It’s a fairly pathetically veiled attempt to try and stave off a revolt by backbenchers, and it’s actually probably more disingenuous than the original vote,” he said.

“It’s nothing. It’s not even a mild step in the right direction, really. It’s just formalising kicking the can down the road, quite frankly.

“It’s a reduction, but you could reduce by 1pc and you’d still be 99pc of where we were after five years – it’s pathetic.”

But Mr Baker, the MP for North Norfolk, said he was “delighted” at the move.

He said: “We all wanted to absolutely clean up our water companies and work to eliminate storm overflows. I expect to now be able to vote through further strengthened provisions in the environment bill.

“This is a really progressive step forward and something many of us have been working hard to achieve.”

However, Labour MP Clive Lewis said he feared the solution would only be temporary.

He said: “The furore over a discharge of sewage in rivers and the sea is a consequence of 20 to 30 years of mismanagement of the water and sewage industry, where valuable resources that should have gone into infrastructure have actually gone into paying dividends to shareholders, time and time again.

“The Tories show no sign of fixing the root cause of this particular problem and until they do that, we will find ourselves back here again.”

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