Ofwat: Strategic Priorities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:42 pm on 9th June 2022.

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Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 2:42 pm, 9th June 2022

My right hon. Friend is right to refer to other polluters. If we take a look across the country as a whole, we will see that it is roughly evenly balanced between pollution from water treatment plants and storm overflows and pollution from agriculture. In the Wye, pollution is particularly prone to come from agriculture. As he knows, I am one of his parliamentary neighbours and our waterways along the whole of the Wye and the Lugg catchment are very affected by intensive poultry farming and the phosphates that it generates through spreading litter on the fields.

The Government need to join up their support mechanisms for agriculture. Now that we have left the EU, we have the opportunity through the environmental land management scheme to redirect support in a way that meets not only the objectives to ensure viable agriculture in this country, but other objectives of the same Department—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

I would like to see a more joined-up approach, so that we can use the mechanisms that exist, such as the sustainable farming incentive, the environmental land management scheme system and the farming rules for water to ensure that we are not only helping farmers to generate and maintain a viable business—I should declare an interest as a farmer and a recipient of the basic payment scheme at the moment—but improving our waterways. My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to raise that issue.

Sewage discharges at the scale that I have mentioned must stop. Campaigning groups up and down the country, with which I have been working, have recognised that for some time—from national organisations such as the Rivers Trust, which I have mentioned, the Angling Trust and Surfers Against Sewage, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley, to individual catchment campaign groups such as Windrush Against Sewage Pollution, which gave powerful evidence to our Committee. All have been focused on raising awareness and urging the Government to take action to compel change in the behaviour and performance of water companies, and they are right to do so.

This is why the strategic policy statement for Ofwat is so critical: it is the primary mechanism through which the Government, via the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, are able to influence the economic regulator, Ofwat, to refocus the prioritisation of capital expenditure for the next five-year pricing period—from 2025 to 2029—of the water companies in England, which are responsible for the treatment of sewage and other waste water.

The latest strategic priority statement for Ofwat was published on 28 March, when we had originally sought to hold this debate, having previously been laid before the House in draft for the statutory 40 days. This document is therefore the critical point of influence and the device through which we in this place can persuade the Government to reprioritise Ofwat to compel water companies to act to reduce pollution of our waterways for which they are responsible.