Conservative MPs are facing backlash after voting against amendments to the Environment Bill that would have placed a legal duty on water companies not to dump sewage into rivers.

The amendment had the support of key NGOs including The Rivers Trust, Surfers Against Sewage and the Angling Trust.

MP for Henley John Howell and MP for Wantage David Johnston were among more than 200 Conservative MPs to vote down the amendments.

REVEALED: All of the rivers were sewage is dumped in Oxfordshire

Sewage overflows are designed to be used when the sewer network is overwhelmed, for example by extreme weather, and release diluted wastewater into rivers rather than letting it back up into people’s homes.

Herald Series: Screen grab of drone footage of sewage being released by Thames Water into the river at Sandford-On-Thames

According to The Rivers Trust Thames Water’s sewage outfalls in the Henley constituency discharged raw or partially treated sewage into the Thames or its tributaries for more than 11,000 continuous hours in 2020. In the Wantage constituency it was discharged for more than 6000 hours.

READ MORE: Here's how Oxfordshire MPs voted on dumping sewage in rivers

South Oxfordshire councillor Jo Robb, a year-round river swimmer, wrote to the MPs last week to ask them to support House of Lords amendments to the Environment Bill that would strengthen action against sewage pollution.

Councillor Robb said: “Our residents and all those who use and love the river want to see an end to sewage dumping. It is a great shame that our MPs decided not to stand up for the River Thames and chose instead to vote down these important amendments.”

Herald Series: SODC Councillor Jo Robb is fighting against sewage pollution in the Thames under her role as Thames Champion, here she is pictured by the Thames in Wallingford. Picture by Ed Nix.

Layla Moran MP for Abingdon and Oxford West said: “It’s frankly astounding that the Conservatives don’t want to crack down on raw sewage being put into our rivers. Last Wednesday they had the perfect opportunity to listen to their constituents and do just that, but instead they voted against the amendment that would put a legal duty on water companies to reduce sewage discharge.

“Our rivers are an important part of so many people’s lives, from those who live on them to those who swim in them. We must clean them up. That shouldn’t be controversial.”

Wallingford resident Matthew Beesley was furious that his local MP voted against the amendment and protested wearing a giant excrement costume by the Thames in Wallingford. He said: "As a regular river user I want to have the confidence that the river is clean and safe to use for both people and wildlife. I am dismayed that my local MP has voted against an amendment designed to make water companies tackle the harm caused by their discharges of untreated waste. It stinks."

David Johnston explained the Government already has a plan to tackle storm overflows and this amendment could have costed billions.

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He said: "I was a supporter of my colleague, Philip Dunne’s, Inland Waters Bill to try and tackle the problem of untreated sewage going into our waters and am a member of the Chalk Streams Parliamentary Group so I know how important it is to maintain the quality of our waters. But not one of the 650 MPs, whatever their party, wants to see sewage in our waters and the allegation that the vote was a vote to permit this is complete nonsense."

Read also: How Oxfordshire MPs voted on dumping sewage in rivers

John Howell said: "No one wants to have raw sewage discharged into our rivers and other water courses and I fully support work to eliminate this. I am therefore pleased that within the Environment Bill we have some important obligations set on water companies to work towards this.

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"However, if we were to regulate to stop this overnight, we would have an increase in raw sewage flooding homes and streets, a very real problem for some people and one which I have already raised with our water company at senior levels for urgent action. This is because of the age and condition of the sewers and the cost of fixing this problem could be as high as £660 billion."

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “Our aim will always be to try and do the right thing for our rivers and for the communities who love and value them.

“It’s our view that discharges of untreated sewage are simply unacceptable, even when they are legally permitted, and we’ll work with the government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency to accelerate work to stop them being necessary."


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