Water companies to invest more than £180m to tackle sewage spills

Water companies will invest more than £180 million to tackle sewage spills, the Government has announced.

The fast-tracked investment made by several water companies in England will support the effort to roll out storm overflow prevention measures by April 2025.

These include artificial intelligence systems, accelerated wetland programmes, installing new in-sewer monitors and recruiting and training specialist staff.

The Government said it expects the measures to prevent more than 8,000 spills polluting English waterways.

Anglian will invest £50 million, Severn Trent will invest £41 million, Southern will invest £10 million, South West will invest £32 million, United Utilities will invest £39 million and Wessex will invest £8 million.

Companies such as Northumbrian and Yorkshire Water have not announced new fast-tracked investment, having already announced plans to take forward additional investment to tackle storm overflows this year, the Government said.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said the investment is part of Government efforts to “push for better performance from water companies and hold them to account”.

He said: “The amount of sewage being spilled into our rivers is completely unacceptable and the public rightly expects action.

“This money will mean more cutting-edge technology, including artificial intelligence, and more specialist staff to detect and reduce spills.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay
Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said the money will mean ‘more specialist staff to detect and reduce spills’ (PA)

“Today’s announcement builds on significant work by this Government to protect and strengthen our waters with increased investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement action.”

The support comes after Mr Barclay directed water companies in December to accelerate plans and increase funding in order to measurably reduce sewage spills over the next 12 months.

The investment will add to the water companies’ previous £3.1 billion investment for the period of 2020 to 2025.

It is the latest move to tackle concerns over levels of pollution being dumped into rivers, lakes and around the coasts from sources including overflow pipes and processing plants, causing harm to wildlife and the health of beachgoers as well as affecting tourism and leisure industries.

The Government recently announced plans to block bonuses for water company executives where firms have committed serious criminal breaches, subject to Ofwat consultation, as well as to quadruple inspections on water companies in the next year.

Giles Bristow, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “It’s great to see the Government fast-tracking investment on the decades-old issue of sewage pollution.

“The informed and angry voices of constituents across the UK are clearly making those in power listen and take visible actions to address the sewage scandal.

“Despite today’s welcome announcement, questions still remain on the scale and scope of the Government’s ambitions for our rivers and seas.

“We’ll be watching closely to ensure that it’s the polluters, not the consumer, that pays to clean up this mess.”