Labour and Lib Dems step up campaigns on sewage dumping

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are beginning their weekend of election campaigning with renewed attacks on the Conservatives over raw sewage being dumped into rivers and the sea.

Labour are reiterating their promise to block bonuses to water company bosses "until they have cleaned up their filth".

The Liberal Democrats are promoting their plans to protect chalk streams and bathing areas from sewage dumping through a 'Blue Flag' scheme.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said the Conservative government had "taken clear action" to tackle the problem - including introducing legal requirements for water companies to reduce discharges and increasing levels of investment.

"We are quadrupling water company inspections, and banning bonuses for water companies that commit criminal breaches," he said.

The polluted state of rivers in England has triggered growing anger over the past few years.

Last week, BBC News produced analysis suggesting that in 2022 sewage may have been discharged nearly 6,000 times when it had not been raining.

Water companies can release untreated sewage into rivers and seas when it rains to prevent it flooding homes, but such spills are illegal when it is dry.

Labour's environment spokesperson Steve Reed accused the Conservatives of having "just folded their arms and looked the other way while water companies pumped a tidal wave of raw sewage into our rivers, lakes and seas, putting the nation's health at risk".

Labour has promised to make water bosses who oversee law-breaking face criminal charges and to introduce automatic fines for water companies that allow illegal discharges.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are focusing on their plans to protect chalk rivers.

Chalk rivers - rivers which originate from underground chalk reservoirs - are extremely rare. The WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) estimates that there are only 200 in the world.

The chalk soaks up water, which when released is rich in minerals, helping to feed plants and wildlife, and provide habitats for endangered species such as the white-clawed crayfish.

The Liberal Democrats are proposing to award rivers and lakes 'Blue Flag' status in a bid to protect the areas from sewage dumping.

Under their plans, chalk rivers and bathing areas could be given priority when deciding which places should be given the status.

The party says Blue Flag status would guarantee year-round monitoring of the quality of the water, with real-time data made publicly available, and would prevent sewage being dumped up or downstream of stretches of river.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: "The swimmers made ill, the wildlife killed and the chalk streams dried up should act as a watershed moment to put an end to the sewage scandal."

The Green Party has said it would bring water companies back into public ownership in England in a bid to "end the scandal of sewage pouring into our rivers and seas".

In Scotland, the SNP argues that keeping Scottish Water in public ownership has led to better services.

Plaid Cymru says it would set higher environmental targets for water quality.