Firms who dump sewage into waterways should pay a tax to clean-up

Firms who dump sewage into waterways should pay a tax to fund the clean-up, campaigners say

  • Proposals could help pay to stop water companies allowing sewage to overflow
  • Ed Davey made the call before today’s Parliament vote on the Environment Bill
  • Government proposing taxpayers foot the bill for sewage system improvements

Companies that dump millions of tons of sewage into Britain’s rivers, lakes and seas face calls for a tax on their profits to pay for the clean-up.

The proposals could help pay to stop water companies allowing sewage to overflow into rivers on days of heavy rain and provide a £340million fund each year for improvements.

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey made the call before today’s Parliament vote on the Environment Bill, which seeks to write environmental principles into law.

Companies that dump millions of tons of sewage into Britain’s rivers, lakes and seas face calls for a tax on their profits to pay for the clean-up

The Government is proposing taxpayers foot the bill for sewage system improvements.

The proposed ‘Sewage Tax’ would be a 16 per cent levy on the pre-tax profits of water companies, which last year added up to £2.2billion.

For example, Southern Water, which makes the most profit of England’s water companies, would have paid £70million in 2020.

Thames Water, which made £434million in pre-tax profits in 2020, would also pay £70million after pumping raw sewage into the River Wey near Guildford for an estimated 1,789 hours last year.

Mr Davey said: ‘Pumping raw sewage into our treasured rivers and lakes leaves a bad taste in the mouth, particularly when these companies are raking in millions of pounds in profits. The whole thing stinks.

‘Water companies need to clean up after their mess. Why should taxpayers be left to foot the bill for water companies who have shown utter disregard for our local environments?’

Yesterday Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Government was introducing changes to the Environment Bill that would ‘mirror’ calls by the Duke of Wellington for water companies to have a legal duty to ‘progressively reduce’ the amount of sewage they dump each year.

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey made the call before today’s Parliament vote on the Environment Bill, which seeks to write environmental principles into law

But critics have argued it does not require water companies to take action quickly, thereby allowing dumping to continue for many years to come.

Mr Eustice told Times Radio: ‘It does everything the Duke of Wellington’s amendment did, and so he recognised that this is a challenge that you wouldn’t solve overnight because the cost of removing all of these storm overflows could be up to £600 billion.

‘But that’s not to say we shouldn’t significantly reduce their use, and since the 1960s most houses’ surface water drainage has been on a different drainage system to the foul water sewage system, but often they’ve ended up being pumped back into the sewer further down the line.’

But Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, labelled the amendment a ‘political ruse’.

He said: ‘If I was a water company and every year I reduced the amount of sewage I dumped by 1/10,000th I would be making a ‘progressive reduction’ but I could carry on dumping s*** for 10,000 years.’

The Bill as a whole seeks to write environmental principles into UK law for the first time, following Brexit.

It is currently in the parliamentary stage known as ‘ping-pong’, where a piece of legislation moves between the Commons and Lords until agreement can be reached.

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