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Westminster Report by Southend West MP Anna Firth.

Westminster Report by Southend West MP Anna Firth.

Westminster Report by Southend West MP Anna Firth.

Westminster Report by Southend West MP Anna Firth.

GOOD water quality is an issue that everyone who lives and works in Southend West 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 that washes up the Estuary twice a day, in order to thrive.

That is why I have been working exceptionally hard to improve our water quality and reduce sewage discharges since I was elected. The Conservative government has made huge progress in improving water quality over the past decade.

However, there has been a lot of fearmongering and misinformation spread about what has been done, and I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

The Environment Act 2022, voted on before I was elected as a Member of Parliament, set the first ever legal expectation on water companies to significantly reduce the use of sewage discharges. The Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan and the Plan for Water both build on this, with £56 billion being invested over 25 years to reduce the use of storm overflows alone – almost as much as the entire budget for the Scottish Government this year.

Since March 2021 (again before I was elected) the Government has required the Environment Agency to publish annual spill data for all monitored storm overflows for the first time, and I am delighted that 100% of storm overflows will be monitored by the end of this year, up from 5% in 2016.

Within 12 years (by 2035) water companies will have to improve all storm overflows discharging into or near designated bathing water and improve 75% of overflows discharging into nature sites. Obviously that includes Southend West.

For the first time ever the Government is also 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.

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, so that water companies that do break the rules are properly punished.

The Conservatives have consistently voted through measures to improve water quality, and to claim otherwise is simply untrue.

The proof of the pudding is in the testing, and successive Conservative governments have increased the percentage of bathing waters, including on the 7 miles of beaches in picturesque Leigh-on-Sea and stunning Southend, classified as “good” or “excellent” from 76% in 2010 to 93% in 2022 – that’s higher than the European Average of 88%.

Only two weeks ago when I joined the Environment Agency and Southend against Sewage and the famous Blue Tits Chill Swimming group to test the quality of the water on Chalkwell beach, just after a rainy week, it was found to be excellent.

Plainly though water companies dumping any sewage into our waterways is not good enough for a coastal community such as Southend and Leigh-on-Sea, which depends on the water for its very existence.

Which is why I have spoken out about this issue seven times in the Commons, and why I am doing everything I can to hold Anglian Water to account, and to ensure that it meets its responsibilities to improve our water quality.

As part of my mission to hold Anglian Water to account, I held a ‘water summit’ bringing together our local swimming groups including the brilliant Redcaps and the Bluetits, Southend Against Sewage, businesses and other residents to meet with the CEO of Anglian Water, the Environment Agency and OFWAT to discuss the concerns they have around our water quality.

By June 30, Anglian Water need to publish an action plan for each of the 5 storm overflows in my constituency, as well as information on the number and duration of spills, and when improvements will be delivered, if projects have already been initiated, and the projected outcomes of interventions.

I will now be holding regular meetings on water quality, so that we can all keep track of how well Anglian Water is doing in meeting its obligations.

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