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Further protections for England’s coastal waterways

Posted: 09/05/23

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and The Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP Press Release: 9.5.2023

The government is planning to consult on expanding its targets to tackle sewage even further to cover all coasts, estuaries and marine protected sites, Defra has confirmed today (9 May 2023).

The Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, published in August 2022, set out stringent targets to protect people and the environment, backed up by £56 billion capital investment – the largest infrastructure programme in water company history.

Since then, the government has continued to drive action to hold water companies to account, bring in tougher regulation and accelerate infrastructure to tackle pollution. Building on the measures in the plan to address the overflows causing the most harm first, the government is now planning to consult to expand the targets to cover all coastal and estuarine overflows.

It follows last month’s announcement that the government’s target to reduce storm overflows will be enshrined in law through the Environment Act 2021. This will be backed by separate interim milestones for bathing waters and high priority nature sites.

The government has always been clear that it will go further and faster to tackle the issue of storm overflows wherever possible, with Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey demanding earlier this year that water companies share individual improvement plans on all storm overflows by June.

The targets outlined in the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan provide an achievable, credible route to tackling sewage and delivering the improvements customers expect without disproportionately impacting consumer bills.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said:

“As a coastal MP myself, I know that our coastlines are hugely important to local communities and to nature.  While 93% of our beaches with designated bathing status are already rated excellent or good, I intend to use my powers to better protect all of our coasts and estuaries”.

The Plan for Water set out the government’s strategy to tackle all sources of pollution – not just storm overflows, but also agriculture, plastics, road run-off and chemicals – as well as managing the pressures on our water resources.

Further information

The Government is taking action to clean up our water through more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement on those who pollute.

Measures include:

More investment

  • £1.6 billion of accelerated investment by water companies, to spend on new infrastructure to tackle pollution and increase our water resilience – including £1.1 billion on storm overflow improvements to cut 10,000 discharges
  • Creating a new Water Restoration Fund, using money from water company finesand penalties to support local environmental projects
  • More than doubling the money for slurry infrastructure by increasing funding to £34 million for farmers to improve slurry storage, reducing a major source of water pollution
  • Supporting farmers to store more water on their land through the £10 million Water Management Grant to fund more on-farm reservoirs and better irrigation equipment.

Stronger regulation

  • Consulting on banning the sale of plastic wet wipes
  • Enabling key water supply infrastructure – such as reservoirs and water transfer schemes – to be built more quickly
  • Bringing forward the deadline for water companies to reduce chemicals in wastewater treatment to 2027
  • Consulting on extending environmental permits to cover dairy and intensive beef farms, and to improve how this is done for pig and poultry farms, in order to better manage sources of pollution

Tougher enforcement

  • Consulting on unlimited fines for polluting water companies
  • Supporting Ofwat action to link dividends to company performance, and tightening up measures on water bosses’ bonuses