THERE can be no greater failure of government than when basic standards of sanitation are routinely breached in the Upper Derwent catchment area by discharge of raw sewage.
Up to 1974 the responsibilities for water supply and dealing with waste water rested mainly with local councils, under direct local democratic control. Funding of major new schemes was dependent on central government, so also under democratic control.
In 1974 the Tory government removed all responsibilities from local authorities, transferring them to newly created Regional Water Authorities. The democratic responsibility now lay with central government. Successive governments starved the RWAs of funding for improvements. In 1989, Margaret Thatcher privatised the RWAs and wrote off their debts.
Privatisation was presented as the solution to a funding problem which the government had itself created. Weak regulation was installed through Ofwat but essentially these private companies, largely foreign owned, have been self-regulating.
According to them, they have been doing a great job. And they have too, if judged solely by their dividends to shareholders which have averaged £2bn a year since privatisation. Judged by the pollution of our waterways and cost of our water, they are an abject failure.
As they are monopolies, we can’t get our water and sewage treatment from any other source. The blame for the current scandal lies in the first place with the government that privatised the service. Successive governments bear the responsibility for what has happened since.
Considerable responsibility also lies with our local councils. Ryedale Council, as planning authority, has chosen for the last 30 years to carry on giving permission for housing developments with little regard to the implications for sewage treatment, sewerage and surface water drainage capacities.
North Yorkshire Council has encouraged this through its obsession with growth and failure in its spatial Strategy to make development conditional on infrastructure capacity.
When central government denies that the commercial priorities of the water companies are causing industrial scale pollution, and locally elected councillors ignore the pollution that is happening under their noses, the result for local people is truly toxic.
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