The Government’s reply to S&TC’s Parliamentary petition

The Government’s reply to S&TC’s Parliamentary petition “Give the Environment Agency the funds and freedom to protect English rivers” completely misses the point.

The Government’s response – required because we got over 10,000 signatures - fails to address our call for the Environment Agency (EA) to be given the mandate and resources to enforce existing legislation to protect our rivers from sewage and agriculture. 

Nick Measham, CEO stated:

“The response highlights the Government’s good intentions and the investments it is making to protect the environment in general but that is not what we asked for. The petition specifically asked for the EA to be given the resources and the ability to monitor, inspect and enforce. As our report on the EA – Doing its Job – made painfully clear, successive Governments have hobbled the EA with de-regulatory measures and woefully inadequate funding over the last decade. No management team in this situation can hope to address the threats to our rivers."

The Government claims the Environment Act 2021 places duties on water and sewerage companies to progressively reduce the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows and improve transparency of reporting when discharges occur, but this wilfully ignores the long-standing statutory duty – enforceable by DEFRA and OFWAT – that water companies have been under, to treat sewage properly, since 1991, as well as the duty that all public authorities - including water companies - have been under since 2004 to publish environmental information about their discharges.

Nick added:

“The legislation to protect our rivers from water companies dumping sewage has been around for years but has not been enforced. Why should more legislation make any difference without robust enforcement?”

The Government also talks about farmers needing advice to understand the risks posed to water by agriculture. Really? Are farmers still in the dark about river pollution? The Government is wilfully ignoring the fact that the 2018 Regulations (the Farming Rules for Water) wrote into law - albeit only because the UK was under legal pressure from the European Union - what the Government and farmers know has been good agricultural practice for at least 35 years, since the mid-1980s.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to S&TC, said:

“For English rivers to have any chance of recovery a robust enforcement approach to the polluting water companies, and to that small proportion of farmers who still refuse to farm responsibly, is the only way of reversing the damage and safeguarding these environments for the future. But that can only happen if the EA is given back its teeth and is properly let off the leash”.