Westminster Report by Southend West MP Anna Firth.
GOOD water quality is an issue that everyone who lives and works in Southend West, Leigh and Westcliff takes exceptionally seriously.
An estimated 6 million tourists visit our historic sea-front every single year and our 1000-year old fishing and cockle industry, as well as our many sea-front businesses, such as Sealife Adventure, Adventure Island, Rossi’s ice-cream, the Peterboat, to name but a few, all depend on the quality of sea-water in order to thrive.
So it is completely unacceptable when Anglian Water uses ‘storm overflows’ to release sewage into the sea.
I am signed up to the ‘Beach Aware’ system, which sends email alerts when spills from the overflows are detected and there is a risk of pollution. Already this year we have seen at least 16 of these alerts, which is 16 too many.
I have been working exceptionally hard since I was elected as your MP to improve our water quality and reduce the use of sewage discharges, so we can all be sure that the sea is safe to swim in.
I have spoken out about this issue a dozen times in the House of Commons, holding the Government to account on its pledges to improve our local water quality. I recently hosted the Secretary of State for the Environment, Therese Coffey, in Leigh, so she could see for herself the challenges we face with water quality.
I am also doing everything I can to hold Anglian Water to account.
Last month I held my second public ‘water summit’, bringing together our local swimming groups including the brilliant Redcaps and the Bluetits, Southend Against Sewage, City and Town Councillors, businesses and other residents to meet with representatives from Anglian Water to discuss the concerns we all have around our water quality.
At this breakthrough meeting we secured a new commitment from Anglian Water to resolve 75% of storm-overflow discharges by 2030, which is five years ahead of Government’s statutory target of 2035.
I was also delighted that Southend has been identified as an area where we can create “an international exemplar for surface water management.”
I will be holding my next water quality meeting in October at the Southend Sewage Works, so that we can all keep track of how well Anglian Water is doing in keeping our environment clean. Do get in touch with me directly if you would like to attend.
Since this meeting, I have been to see the Chief Executive of Southend City Council, Rob Tinlin, to discuss the need for us to have a local Sewage Management Plan, with changes to the planning system and better education, so sewers do not get blocked. I will keep you updated on this.
Nationally, the Conservative Government is also taking decisive action, consistently voting through measures to improve water quality.
For the first time ever the Government is incentivising water companies to invest to significantly reduce the use of storm overflows. Between 2020 and 2025, they will invest £7.1 billion on environmental improvements in England, including £3.1 billion on storm overflows.
Locally we have seen £800 million spent improving management of waterways over the past five years, and £110 million on infrastructure improvements.
The Government is also making sure that storm overflows are properly monitored. By the end of this year, every one of them will have a monitor fitted and water companies will have to provide real-time data if they are used. We are ahead of schedule with this locally, and since April all our overflows are monitored.
The Government is also holding the water companies to account. Since 2015, the Environment Agency has brought 58 prosecutions against water companies. Anglian Water alone has paid £3,067,000 in fines across 18 prosecutions and fines, of which 6 were in 2022. These fines are being made unlimited from December this year so that water companies that do break the rules are properly punished.
The proof of the pudding is always in the eating, and successive Conservative governments have increased the percentage of bathing waters nationally classified as “good” or “excellent” from 76% in 2010 to 93% in 2022 – that’s higher than the European Average of 88%. In 2004, there were only three Excellent rated beaches in Southend. Now there are five Excellent and three rated as Good/Excellent.
Plainly though, water companies dumping any sewage into our waterways is not good enough for a coastal community such as Leigh and I will continue to work to ensure that we have the best possible water quality locally.
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