Britons face rising water bills for 100 years to fix sewage spills
Britons will be paying higher water bills for up to a century to cover the cost of a record £10 billion investment in sewage networks to stop spills.
Water UK chair Ruth Kelly on Thursday said water companies are “sorry” for polluting UK coastlines and waterways and admitted “more should have been done to address the issue of spillages sooner”, as the company unveiled plans for the largest ever investment in sewage networks.
However, it is the British public who will foot the bill through an increase in water rates “over the full lifetime of the asset”, Ms Kelly confirmed.
“Over time, the way the system works is that there will be modest upward pressure on customer bills over the full lifetime of the asset, so over 50 years or perhaps even longer, maybe up to 100 years, customers do contribute,” she told BBC Breakfast on Thursday.
Water companies aim to slash 400,000 annual spills to 280,000, Ms Kelly said, while she pledged to have “every single one of the 15,000 overflows in this country” monitored by the end of the year.
Environment Agency figures earlier this year showed there were a total of 301,091 sewage spills in 2022, an average of 824 a day.
Shareholders will make the £10 billion investment and a public financial plan will be published this summer, Ms Kelly said.
“What we’re announcing is investment that goes way beyond what is legally required to make a real difference to the enjoyment people can have of rivers and beaches.
“And it is not just water companies who have to rise to this challenge. The regulator and the whole sector also has to rise to this challenge because I think people expect that of us.”
But critics have hit out at the apology and increased costs.
Households must not be forced to foot the bill for upgrades to sewage systems , a Labour frontbencher Jim McMahon told Sky News.
“We can’t allow in a cost-of-living crisis for families to take the burden of that because water companies still think they can carry on business as usual.”
He condemned the Government for effectively “legalising” sewage spills, despite having the “levers of power” to outlaw them as Labour has pledged to do.
Undertones singer and environmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey told BBC Radio 4: “We should have an apology for the suggestion they are going to put bills up by £10 billion for their incompetence and their greed.
“This is nothing to celebrate whatsoever. What they should be saying is, ‘we messed this up, we’re terribly sorry, we’re going to compensate you all £10 billion, it is the least we could do for our customers, give you a refund’.
“This is just another outbreak of moral panic due to the pressure and scrutiny they are coming under.”
A map released by Thames Water in January shows where storm overflows are currently discharging in London. There are more than 100 dumping sites across the capital, with neighbourhoods including Battersea, Lambeth, Greenwich and Hammersmith in the firing line.
Last month, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said the Government would introduce legislation to put plans to reduce storm overflows on a “new legal footing”.
The Government’s Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, published in August 2022, aims to eliminate sewage dumping by 2050 while cutting discharges close to “high priority” areas by 75 per cent by 2035 and 100 per cent by 2045.
A spokesperson for Ofwat, the water regulator, said: “We welcome the apology from water companies and this now needs to be turned into action.
“Through our regulatory process, we will ensure they deliver the best possible outcomes over the next five years and beyond.”
Environmental Audit Committee chairman, and Conservative MP, Philip Dunne, said: “People are quite rightly sick and tired of the repeated reports of sewage flowing into our rivers and seas, and we must put a stop to it.
“Today’s initiatives, if delivered fully, could go a long way to addressing these understandable concerns and returning the country’s precious waterways to good health.”
Water Minister Rebecca Pow said: “The Government has put the strictest targets ever on water companies to reduce sewage pollution and demanded that water companies deliver their largest ever infrastructure investment – £56 billion.”