UK coastlines treated as ‘open sewers’ as almost one million hours of sewage dumped into seas last year

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Labour slammed the government for having “no respect” for the public as damning figures show the extent of sewage dumps in coastal areas

Ministers have been slammed for treating UK coastlines as “open sewers” by Labour after damning figures showed sewage was dumped in coastal areas for almost one million hours last year.

Analysis of Environment Agency data by the Labour Party found untreated wastewater was released more than 140,000 times around the England and Wales coast in 2022, with only two out of 139 coastal constituencies escaping entirely.

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The worst affected were on the west coast including Torridge & West Devon, with 57,494 hours of sewage spills and Carmarthen East & Dinefwr with 60,431, while Dover had just three hours.

Additional analysis by NationalWorld found that 68 MPs who had raw sewage dumped in their constituencies last year actually voted to allow it in last year’s vote, including Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey. The MP, who represents Suffolk Coastal, had sewage dumped 426 times, equating to 548 hours worth of discharge.

Jim McMahon, the Shadow Environment Secretary, said the data pointed to the scale of the problem and the Conservative government has shown “no respect for places where people live, work and holiday.”

He added: “Coastal communities should be able to just enjoy where they live without having to worrying about encountering filthy raw sewage.”

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The latest analysis used data from the website Top of the Poops, which collates Environment Agency statistics at a constituency level. Although the findings relate to coastal constituencies, not all of the releases will have been directly into the sea.

The UK’s sewer network relies on combined sewage pipes which carry both stormwater and sewage which means they are prone to overflowing when it rains.

Labour slammed the government for having “no respect” for the public as damning figures show the extent of sewage dumps in coastal areas. (Image by NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock) Labour slammed the government for having “no respect” for the public as damning figures show the extent of sewage dumps in coastal areas. (Image by NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock)
Labour slammed the government for having “no respect” for the public as damning figures show the extent of sewage dumps in coastal areas. (Image by NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock) | NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock

The industry estimates it will require £56 billion of investment to fix the problem and under current plans, sewage releases won’t end until 2050.

McMahon has introduced a private member’s bill to bring an end to sewage discharges by 2030 which will be debated on 21 April. Labour proposals also include automatic fines for companies dumping sewage and implementing legally binding reduction targets.

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He said Labour would end the Tory sewage scandal by “delivering mandatory monitoring on all sewage outlets, introducing automatic fines for discharges, setting ambitious targets for stopping systematic sewage dumping and ensuring that water bosses are held to account for negligence”.

A senior Conservative party source said the Tories had brought in widespread monitoring of the issue and claimed sewage was dumped more frequently under Labour in Wales, the Guardian reports.

Meanwhile a separate analysis by the Liberal Democrats this week found there were 8,500 hours of sewage discharges from overflows close to England’s Blue Flag beaches. These beaches are meant to have the highest water quality and have been internationally recognised as being environmentally-friendly.

Recent data from the Environment Agency also revealed how in England and Wales there were 825 sewage spills into waterways and coasts a day on average last year. This was down almost a fifth on 2021 but the reduction is likely due to the significantly lower rainfall.

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Coffey this week announced the government’s long-term water strategy including more investment from water companies, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement for those who pollute. It also includes a consultation on a ban of plastic in wet wipes as a previous report by Water UK found that wipes made up around 93% of the material causing sewer blockages.

She said: “I completely understand the concerns that people have about the health and resilience of our waters, which is why I am setting out this plan for a truly national effort to protect and improve them.

She also slammed those who want quick fixes to the sewage crisis, saying: “There is no way we can stop pollution overnight. If anyone tells you they can get £56 billion of investment out the door to make the necessary improvements to fix everything in the next seven years, they’re either detached from reality or being definitively dishonest.”

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