Anglian Water and other water companies should be taxed to pay for wastewater ‘discharged’ into rivers to be cleaned. The call for a ‘sewage tax’ has been made by national and regional Liberal Democrats, and Lib Dem leader Ed Davey joined the local election campaign in South Cambridgeshire over the weekend.
Mr Davey and Councilor Pippa Heylings, who is also the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire, visited a chalk stream in Meldreth with councilors and said more needed to be done to tackle sewage dumping in the rivers. The group highlighted data from Anglian Water which showed St Ives in Cambridgeshire had the third longest discharge of sewage last year, lasting over 5,800 hours, and Ely had the tenth longest at nearly 4,000 hours.
Mr Davey and Cllr Heylings said Anglian Water and other water companies should be taxed on profits to pay for cleaning up rivers and lakes in the area.
Read more: Who are South Cambridgeshire’s candidates for the 2022 local elections?
Cllr Heylings said: ‘After the Government failed to halt the discharge of raw sewage, these new findings leave a bad taste in your mouth. Water companies like Anglian Water have gotten away with it for far too long, especially when they make billions in profits every year. Rather than watering down proposals to reduce these discharges, the Conservatives need to be much tougher on the water companies. We need a waste water tax so these water companies can clean up the mess they have created.
“Cambridgeshire is the driest part of Britain, with chalk streams of national significance and highly variable rainfall. To see Cambridgeshire’s rivers included in the worst offenses is deeply worrying. The water supply crisis in our area has resulted in low levels of water flow in our rivers and streams which means there are higher concentrations of faecal bacteria pollution as well as nitrates and phosphates.
“This is demonstrated by the worrying decline in water quality in the River Cam, in the chalk streams of the Rivers Mel and Rhee, and the Swavesey Drain in particular.”
Mr Davey said he was disappointed that Tory MPs backed “very weak measures”. He said: ‘Water companies are making huge profits and what the Liberal Democrats are saying is that with a very modest sewage tax you could take some of those profits and invest them in the infrastructure works, working with local communities so we can clean up our rivers.
“We can prevent sewage from being dumped, it’s pretty awful that this dirty sewage is being dumped into our rivers and the lack of action and it’s an issue we are fighting against locally and nationally.”
Responding to comments, a spokesperson for Anglian Water said: “Data from our 2021 CSO monitoring program tells us that our performance continues to improve, and the growing visibility we have of CSO activity gives us even more opportunities to act faster in areas where we can have the most environmental benefits.
“But we know we need to do more. As part of our recently launched Get River Positive pledge, we have set out a clear plan and demonstrable action in response to calls for rivers in England to be revived. The core of the pledges is to ensure that storm overflows are not the cause of unhealthy rivers in our region by 2030.
“We have a proven track record of investing in protecting and improving the environment and any profit should be considered alongside the scale of our investment program, which between 2020 and 2025 alone was our biggest ever with nearly £6bn, of which £800m is aimed specifically at environmental improvements, it is the biggest environmental program of any water company in the UK.
Hopes Cambridgeshire Lib Dems win Conservatives in local elections
The visit to Cambridgeshire came as candidates campaign for local elections in May. Elections will be held for Cambridge City Council, Huntingdonshire District Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council on May 5.
Mr Davey said he was “proud” of what the Liberal Democrat councilors have achieved in South Cambridgeshire and said the party believed it would benefit from the “lifetime Tories”.
He said: “There is a real feeling that people are reacting to the very hard work of local Liberal Democrat councilors and activists. There is a sense that we are listening and part of the community, which is what people look for in local government.
“At the same time, there is a feeling that even long-time Tories are surprised by the behavior of senior Tories, they spontaneously say that the behavior of the Prime Minister above the party door has in fact shocked them in as long-time curators. They feel he is not a good prime minister and they cannot support the Conservatives this time around. I think some will stay home, but some are looking to the Liberal Democrats.
“We’ll see what happens, but I think Conservative voters feel like they really can’t bring themselves to vote for this Conservative government and any Conservative candidate linked to the government.”