I’ve had quite a few messages about a vote we had this week on the Environment Bill so I wanted to explain it here as I know we had a recent scare.
The Environment Bill is a landmark piece of legislation and I’m hugely proud to support it, its scope is quite literally enormous and I think will have a transformative effect in years ahead.
We are currently in ‘ping-pong’ so the Bill is passing back and forth with the Lords as we iron out the final details. The Lords put down an amendment last week to put a duty water companies to demonstrate progress on storm overflows.
This sounds like something I would support. However for two reasons I didn’t. Firstly the Bill already is putting in many new duties on this issue.
Firstly a duty on the water companies to put together Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans which set out how they will manage and develop their drainage and sewerage systems.
Secondly a duty on government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from overflows and the harm this causes by September 2022 (they will report directly to Parliament).
Thirdly a new duty on water companies and the EA to publish data on storm overflow operations on an annual basis.
Fourthly a new duty on government to produce a report setting out the actions that would be needed to eliminate storm overflow in England and the costs and benefits of such action.
Fifth a new duty on water companies to publish information (within an hour) of the commencement of an overflow, its location and when it ceases.
Sixth a new duty on water companies to continuously monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of a storm overflow and of sewage disposal work.
Seventh a new duty on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans setting out how the company will manage and develop its drainage and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning horizon and how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans.
My second reason is that I spoke to colleagues on the Environmental Audit Committee who are holding an inquiry with the water chiefs at the moment and to the agencies and discovered that the expected cost could be as much as £150 billion which could be passed on to customers.
It is a complicated and expensive problem to update our sewers, and whilst it needs to be done, I think rather than giving them free rein on how to do it, it would be good to see the plans water companies will put in place so the trade offs and ramifications for residents can be scrutinised and then we can put further measures in place if needed.
This Bill is doing a lot on this issue already, it’s still a work in progress and can also be amended at a later date through secondary legislation if we feel it needs to go further.
I hope that helps.