The government has launched a six-week consultation on expanding its targets to tackle sewage even further to cover all coasts, estuaries and marine protected sites (12 June 2023).
The Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, published in August 2022, set out stringent targets to protect people and the environment, backed up by £56 billion capital investment – the largest infrastructure programme in water company history.
Since then, the government has continued to drive action to hold water companies to account, bring in tougher regulation and accelerate infrastructure to tackle pollution. Building on the measures in the plan to address the overflows causing the most harm first, the government is now consulting for six weeks on expanding the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan to cover all coastal and estuarine overflows. The current Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan covers 91% of storm overflows.
The government has always been clear that it will go further and faster to tackle the issue of storm overflows wherever possible. The consultation follows the government announcing that targets to reduce storm overflow discharges will be enshrined in law through the Environment Act 2021.
The government’s intention to consult on the targets was set out last month. The consultation has now launched and will be open until 24 July 2023, and follows the Environment Secretary’s demand to water companies earlier this year to share individual action plans on every storm overflow, including coastal and estuarine, this summer.
Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said:
While 93% of our beaches with designated bathing status are already rated excellent or good, there is still more to do to better protect our hugely important coasts and estuaries.
That is why I am consulting to extend our stringent targets to cover every storm overflow in England – protecting people and the environment across the country.
The targets outlined in the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan provide an achievable, credible route to tackling sewage and delivering the improvements customers expect without disproportionately impacting consumer bills.
- The Plan for Water set out the government’s strategy to tackle all sources of pollution – not just storm overflows, but also agriculture, plastics, road run-off and chemicals – as well as managing the pressures on our water resources. It set out action to clean up our water through more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement on those who pollute.
- £1.6 billion of accelerated investment by water companies, to spend on new infrastructure to start in the next 2 years to tackle pollution and increase our water resilience – including £1.1 billion on storm overflow improvements.
- Delivering long-term catchment action plans – community-led schemes which aim to improve waterways and surrounding eco-systems – backed up by new funding, to improve all water bodies in England. This follows the credit scheme launched by Natural England to offset the environmental impact of new housing developments.
- Creating a new Water Restoration Fund, using money from water company fines and penalties to support local environmental projects, like re-meandering rivers and restoring habitats.
- More than doubling the money for slurry infrastructure by increasing funding to £34 million for farmers to improve slurry storage, reducing a major source of water pollution, with a further £31 million announced this week under the Productivity and Slurry Grant to support farmers procure equipment and technology.
- Leveraging £1 million investment in partnership projects each year to improve chalk catchments to help protect these rare and irreplaceable habitats. This is in addition to taking forward the recommendations from the Chalk Stream Strategy.
- Launching a £6.6 million Lowland Peat Research and Development programme in 2023 to identify the best way to reduce emissions from lowland peatlands.
- Consulting on banning the sale of plastic wet wipes. We have also written to relevant producers about ‘flushable’ labelling on wet wipe packaging.
- Enabling key water supply infrastructure – such as reservoirs and water transfer schemes – to be built more quickly.
- Bringing forward the deadline for water companies to reduce chemicals in wastewater treatment to 2027.
- Consulting on extending environmental permits to cover dairy and intensive beef farms, and to improve how this is done for pig and poultry farms, in order to better manage sources of pollution.
- Develop new proposals to restrict the use of ‘forever’ chemicals (PFAS) found in our rivers and seas – including proposals for a ban on PFAS in fire-fighting foams following recommendations made by the Health and Safety Executive.
- Launching a new National Policy Statement on water resources so that key water supply infrastructure – such as reservoirs and water transfer schemes – can be built more quickly.
- Integrating water and flood planning to target actions where they will have the biggest impact for nature.
- Reducing water demand by encouraging water companies to consider how to rapidly increase smart meter installations for household and non-household customers.