Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 6th December 2021.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of requiring water companies to review their business plans in the control period to increase investment in reducing raw sewage

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have been clear that the current level of sewage discharges is unacceptable.

Water companies are committed in the current 5-year business planning period to a significant programme of improvements to monitoring and management of sewer overflows. Water company investment in this area currently totals £3.1 billion, including £1.9 billion of investment in the Thames Tideway Tunnel and £1.2 billion elsewhere delivering over 800 improvement schemes in response to Event Duration Monitoring insights. Water companies must also certify to Ofwat each year that they have the funding, management resources and systems and controls in place to fulfil their regulated activities, including to meet their environmental obligations and should be investing accordingly in order to fulfil their regulatory requirements.

Companies have also already re-opened their business plans as part of our efforts to build back greener from the pandemic. Ofwat approved a draft package of over £2.7 billion and as part of this new package of investment, companies committed an additional £144 million to help eliminate the harm caused by Storm Overflows and trial the creation of two bathing rivers.

The Government has made tackling this a priority and we are the first Government to take concerted action to tackle this historic infrastructure issue.

Earlier this year the Government published a new draft set of strategic priorities for the water industry's financial regulator Ofwat. In this publication Government set out its expectation that water companies must take steps to "significantly reduce the frequency and volume of sewage discharges from storm overflows."

The Environment Act then placed this direction on a statutory footing, setting a duty for water companies to achieve a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from Storm Overflows. Defra intends to set out the level of ambition expected by this in due course.

The Government will take the necessary action to ensure that water companies perform against existing, and new, statutory obligations.

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