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Raw sewage in rivers: Government U-turn on discharges after massive backlash

The move comes after a huge public outcry over the House of Commons rejecting an amendment to the Environment Bill.

The Government has U-turned on sewage being discharged into rivers after MPs who voted against stronger environment protections faced a massive backlash from the public.

The Environment Bill will now enshrine in law a duty on water companies to reduce the amount of raw or treated sewage ending up in rivers or canals.

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An amendment tabled by the House of Lords which called for this was last week rejected by MPs, sparking fury.

The move also comes after Manchester World analysed data on just how bad the problem of treated and untreated sewage ending up in waterways is across the city.

What has the Government now agreed?

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced on Tuesday that the bill would be strengthened to place duties on water firms to progressively reduce the amount of discharge coming from storm overflows.

Data collected by The Rivers Trust shows this is by far the most typical type of sewage discharge in Manchester, with some storm overflows discharging hundreds of times in 2020.

MPs voted on the discharge of raw sewage into rivers and seas (Photo: Shutterstock)

Last week’s refusal to put the commitment on the statute books led to a massive public backlash and anger from environmental groups.

What has The Rivers Trust said?

The Rivers Trust has given a cautious welcome to the U-turn .

It also hopes the strengthened majority in favour of the amendment in the House of Lords at the second vote on it indicates a changing attitude to protecting rivers among politicians.

Christine Colvin, the organisation’s director for partnerships and communications, said: “Whilst we await the specific wording of this new clause to the Environment Bill, we are pleased to see the Government responding to the justified outcry from the public, who demand that our rivers are no longer treated as sewers.

A gutter which is part of the sewage system. Photo: The Rivers Trust

“This conviction is only getting stronger, as we saw in the Lords vote, with an even bigger majority voting to stop sewage pollution in our rivers and coasts.

“Together with the other additional clauses in the Bill, the promised amendment shows the Government has taken seriously the call from NGOs, the public and a growing majority of the Lords.

“We hope the amendment in the Commons fully captures the ambition to see water companies ceasing the discharge of untreated sewage into rivers.”