Yet fast forward to today and the environment is front and centre of the public’s mind.
For all the noise about climate change targets and greenhouse gases during COP26, it is our treasured rivers, lakes and bathing sites which have also grabbed the public’s attention.
The shameful action of water companies dumping sewage into natural water sources has been rightly called out and condemned. Yet our Conservative government missed two opportunities to stop them.
The first failed chance to take action took place recently when MPs voted on the Environment Bill.
Despite millions demanding they take action and calls from the Liberal Democrat MPs, the Conservative government ploughed on with sheer arrogance, and voted through their new Bill despite the lack of meaningful action on water companies dumping sewage into our rivers.
They then had a second chance when MPs voted once more on the Environment Bill, after the Lords had insisted on greater action.
Yet again, they failed to act, only making measly changes which still let water companies off the hook.
The result is a law which offers no meaningful targets or clear action plan to end the regular dumping of sewage into rivers by the water companies.
A painful and unforgivable betrayal of our local environment.
The consequences of their failed action are appalling.
Wildlife poisoned, habitats destroyed, and swimming spots no longer safe for our children to enjoy.
Just 14 per cent of our waterways are in good ecological health and if nothing is done this is only going to get worse. That is a damning fact which should haunt the Conservatives after they shirked taking action on water companies.
It is time we took action on the water companies by making them pay for the mess they have made.
I am proposing a Sewage Tax on water companies to fund the clean-up action of our rivers which have become polluted with raw sewage.
Last year, water companies made £2.2bn in profits despite dumping raw sewage into waterways over 400,000 times.
Yorkshire Water made millions in profit last year. I can’t understand how they can profit from damaging local water sources.
For example, one sewage discharge in Harrogate by Yorkshire Water lasted a staggering 1,354 hours.
In Holme Lane, Sheffield, it pumped sewage into a waterway for over 2,000 hours!
These are not mere trickles of polluting sewage, but waves upon waves of harmful waste which will cause untold damage.
The Liberal Democrats’ proposal for a Sewage Tax would raise over £340m a year by taxing the profits of water companies.
I want an end to sewage in waterways as soon as possible.
Any ban should go hand in hand with forcing water companies to fork up cash for the mess they continue to make.
This past few weeks have been a reminder that you simply cannot trust the Conservatives to protect our environment and hold powerful companies to account.
The campaign to protect our waterways continues and I am proud my party is leading it.
Sir Ed Davey MP is leader of the Liberal Democrats.
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