Yorkshire MP defends vote on sewage dumping after uproar

A Yorkshire MP has defended his decision to vote against a proposal to clean up rivers after he was criticised by local campaigners, claiming the move would cost up to £650bn and “bankrupt most water companies”.

Robbie Moore, MP for Keighley and Ilkley
Robbie Moore, MP for Keighley and Ilkley

Robbie Moore, who represents Keighley and Ilkley, was one of the 268 MPs who voted to reject an amendment to the Environment Bill which aimed to introduce a new duty on water companies to reduce raw sewage discharges into rivers.

Ilkley Clean River Group said it was disappointed by Mr Moore’s decision, adding: “Without that legal obligation, water companies can still cause harm by their sewage discharges and there is no guarantee of any immediate action to tackle sewage pollution”.

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The Tory MP said he is “strongly opposed” to the “disgusting” practice of discharging sewage into rivers when storms cause overflows, but the amendment “came with no plan” to reduce these discharges and an enormous cost.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has said the complete elimination of discharges from storm overflows would cost more than £150bn, according to Initial assessments.

“The practical problem is that across the UK there is just one system of pipes that takes both rainwater and sewerage from homes, rather than separate systems for rainwater and for sewerage,” Mr Moore said.

“When there are storms, so much rainwater enters the sewerage system that it cannot be contained and needs to flow somewhere.

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“The preliminary cost of this national infrastructure change is estimated to be in region of £650bn. To put this figure in perspective, £650bn is significantly more than what has been spent combatting the pandemic.

“It would bankrupt most water companies unless consumers or taxpayers contribute. The cost work estimates out at approximately £20,000 per household.

“The Government’s view was that it would have been irresponsible on the taxpayer to have inserted this section in the Bill given that it was not backed by a detailed plan and thorough impact assessment.”

Mr Moore also said the Government is introducing a “comprehensive package of measures” to crack down on sewage discharges from storm overflows and it is due to publish a detailed plan to address the issue by September 1, next year.

However, The Rivers Trust has described claims made about the enormous costs as "red herrings" and states that "nobody is proposing digging up our entire sewerage network and starting from scratch".

In a statement, it added: "Some of our sewer systems are not combined; some systems are not overflowing to the point that they result in harm.

"Many chronic overflows could be resolved with upstream, cheaper nature based solutions (NBS), diverting water back into the natural water cycle where it brings more benefits and ensure it does not overwhelm the sewage system downstream.

"Properly accounting for NBS and new innovation could cost substantially less. We have a wealth of information on sustainable urban drainage, waiting in the wings to be scaled-up."