Harlow MP Robert Halfon explains his position over “sewage vote”

General / Mon 25th Oct 2021 at 10:45am

MPs have received a backlash after voting against amending a bill to stop water companies dumping raw sewage into Britain’s rivers and seas.  

Just 22 Conservatives, including a number in Essex, rebelled against the Government last week by voting for an amendment to the Environment Bill which sought to place a legal duty on water companies not to pump sewage into rivers. 

Sewage pollution is a key component of what MPs have heard is a chemical cocktail of pollutants going into rivers, with raw sewage being discharged into waters more than 400,000 times last year.

YH asked Harlow MP to explain why he voted the way he did.

Mr Halfon said: “Contrary to what has been reported and spread on social media, the idea that I voted to allow sewage into our canals, rivers and seas could not be further from the truth.

“I understand that many fair-minded residents have been alarmed by this recent news story, but I want to be clear that the facts of the matter are wholly different to the misleading stories being circulated by political opponents.

“Built in the Victorian era, the UK has only one system of pipes that takes both rainwater and sewage from homes, rather than separate systems. When there are storms, so much rainwater enters the sewerage system that it cannot be contained. If we did not have the overflow systems that are currently in place, then there would be flooding with raw sewage onto the streets.

“Because of the ancient nature of our systems, stopping sewage discharge into rivers is a problem so complex, no previous Government has attempted to tackle it, until now.

“The amendment being reported on, tabled by the Duke of Wellington, would not have stopped sewage being discharged into rivers during periods of extreme rainfall, instead it would also have likely led to sewage being discharged into the streets.

“This amendment would have tried to create a new sewage system costing anything between £150 billion and £650 billion to build. To put those figures in perspective, £150 billion is more than the entire schools, policing and defence budgets put together, and £650 billion is nearly twice what has been spent combating the Coronavirus pandemic. It would potentially bankrupt most water companies unless they passed on the bills to consumers or taxpayers. The cost works out at between about £5,000 and £20,000 per household.

“However, the Government is taking action to combat this complex problem, without causing sky high costs to Harlow taxpayers. I voted to support these measures which will introduce:

A range of immediate steps to address storm overflows, together with a legal duty on government to produce detailed and cost plans for reducing and eliminating storm overflows entirely.

A requirement on water companies to monitor the water quality impacts of their sewage discharges and to publish this information, with the Secretary of State able to make regulations in response. This will ensure water companies reduce sewage discharges that cause the most harm to the environment and public health.

A new duty on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans setting out how the company will manage and develop its networks, and how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans.

A requirement for the Government to produce a plan, by September next year, to reduce storm overflows and their harm as well as a report considering the costs and benefits of eliminating overflows entirely.

“It is also worth noting that between 2020 and 2025, water companies will invest £3.1 billion in storm overflow improvements.

“These measures will stop sewage overflow into our rivers. The Minister has said that the law can be strengthened further without causing chaos to sewage systems, potentially bankrupting water companies and creating extremely messy streets during floods.

“The Environment Bill which is being debated has been introduced by the Conservative Government to tackle many of the historic environmental issues in our country and to protect our environment for future generations.

“I am proud of my record on the action I have taken to cherish our environment, tackle climate change and create a greener Harlow and a greener Britain, including:

Reducing greenhouse gases by a quarter since 2010 and voting for Net Zero by 2050.

Tripling tree planting rates to 30,000 hectares a year across the UK – equivalent to 46,000 football pitches – including thousands more in Harlow.

Introducing the plastic bag levy, reducing the plastic bag sales by over 95% and banning the sale of microbeads, plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds to protect marine wildlife.

Investing world-leading sums into reducing greenhouse gas emissions to create clean growth and sustainable energy production.

Quadrupling our renewable energy capacity since 2010.

“I’m also proud that the new Conservative Harlow Council has set a 2040 Net Zero target to massively reduce carbon emissions across the town.

“I cherish our environment, our green spaces, our canals and riverways and I will continue to do everything possible to protect it for future generations.

“Finally, I would encourage anyone concerned to watch this fact checking news report from GB News here which sets out the truth about this news story:

MPs are facing a backlash after voting against amending a bill to stop water companies dumping raw sewage into Britain’s rivers and seas.  

Just 22 Conservatives rebelled against the Government last week by voting for an amendment to the Environment Bill which sought to place a legal duty on water companies not to pump sewage into rivers. 

Sewage pollution is a key component of what MPs have heard is a chemical cocktail of pollutants going into rivers, with raw sewage being discharged into waters more than 400,000 times last year.

“Finally, I would encourage anyone concerned to watch this fact checking news report from GB News here which sets out the truth about this news story: https://twitter.com/tomhfh/status/1452562351329271814

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19 Comments for Harlow MP Robert Halfon explains his position over “sewage vote”:

Michael Szpakowski
2021-10-25 10:55:12

Perish the thought that the water companies might have to pay to avoid sewage being dumped in our rivers. Halfon’s explanation shows him for what he is: a Tory who puts business before the environment and the interests of his constituents. On a related topic anyone expecting him to ride over the horizon with the cavalry to rescue the Stort from the developers probably still believes in the tooth fairy.

2021-10-25 11:24:36

The figures quoted sound roughly like the figures wasted on getting folks to Birmingham 6 mins quicker. Instead of ripping up valuable and now permanently scarred natural countryside and animal habitats so all you MPs could play Trains, maybe you should have spent the money on sorting this issue once and for all. The Conservative party. Putting party and business before the people they are supposed to represent.

Mark Ingall
2021-10-25 11:45:38

Water companies were privatised 32 years ago. During those three decades they have paid dividends from profits taken from bill payers to shareholders. If the bill for a sewage system fit for purpose is as high as Halfon suggests then that is clear.evidence that the profit taking privatisation of utilities has failed. And I wouldsuggest if Halfon has to rely on far right news company GB news for support he really is in trouble.

Keith Christian
2021-10-25 12:23:06

A lucid and common sense answer from an excellent and caring m.p.

Kay Morrison
2021-10-25 14:29:55

Fortunately not every MP is like ours: some voted against allowing sewage discharge. Even a number of other Conservatives see the practice as unacceptable. Maybe there's still hope?

2021-10-25 14:36:34

The health cost of sewage pollution is rising so we can't really afford not to act. Companieshave been notifying for years but dumping more. Not least to consider is the damaging effects of such pollution adding to pharmaceutical products, like oestrogen excreted into sewage, are having on human health particularly fertility. The waste isn't removed and so gets recycled into drinking water. Such pollution had halved sperm counts in London by 2012 , turned male fish and reptiles into female and are thought to be the roots causes of other serious effects on the human endocrinal system. See research published Brunel University 2012. It's now a problem in many countries. Other chemicals are linked to cancer. So why not nationalise all water and use the profits that mainly go to overseas companies (for instance,much of the industry is owned by the French ) to separate the surface water and sewage systems and treat both to remove pollutants before either is returned to the environment or used for drinking water. English rivers are the most polluted in Europe. That includes the Stort. https://www.facebook.com/groups/246426173922939/permalink/343798080852414/

2021-10-25 15:20:59

I find GB news fair and interesting. Never considered myself far right though, live and learn.

2021-10-25 16:51:12

Disgusting to allow sewerage into our waters. This is outrageous gaslighting by government apologists.

tony edwards
2021-10-25 18:11:10

Robert Halfon's analysis smells a bit. Interesting article in Wikipedia which details how the Water Authorities were deliberately starved of funds prior to being privatised in 1989. Also interesting to see the views Joseph Chamberlain, who argued in 1884 "It is difficult, if not impossible to combine the citizens' rights and interests and the private enterprise's interests, because the private enterprise aims at its natural and justified objective, the biggest possible profit." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_privatisation_in_England_and_Wales

2021-10-25 18:58:26

This environment bill will replace EU environmental regulations following Brexit. Last year just 14% of rivers in England were considered to be in good ecological condition, and England had the worst river quality in Europe. I'm sure that with this governments help that 14% can be reduced further and that we can beat not just Europe but become world leaders when it comes to the worst quality of water. Afterall, that is exactly what was promised right? That enviromentai laws would be made weaker so water companies can increase their profits? Or was the promise that environmental laws would be strengthened? Robert Halfon's current stance is odd because somehow it is now OK to dump raw sewage into rivers, but a few month's ago, a stream turning blue prompted him to speak to the Minister for the Environment. https://www.yourharlow.com/2021/08/15/pollution-fears-and-investigation-underway-as-stream-near-fold-croft-turns-blue/ I guess RH now doesn't care about rivers being poluted afterall.

Michael beere
2021-10-25 20:30:40

This defence is not Robert Halfons'. Dozens of other Tory MPs have put out exactly the same statement. Funny that. Smells of concerted campaign by No 10 to muddy the waters.

Michael beere
2021-10-25 20:34:36

Robert Halfon bleats he's on the side of Harlow people then votes for every austerity measure of the last 11 years. You're such a good constituency MP Mr Halfon. Thank you for looking after our interests.

Cy Borg
2021-10-25 21:05:05

Prevent storm water entering foul sewer by forcing property owners to survey and rectify offending pipework by installing soakaways. Sewerage ran down our street due to manhole covers lifting downstream of a right to buy housing estate with suspect pipework.

Big Al
2021-10-26 07:18:39

Same copy coming from Conservative Central office. They have been caught out and are clamouring to control it. They cannot back up their claims with costed numbers so throw out alarmist figures. They care less about our waterways, wildlife and drinking water, and more abou protecting the dividends of the shareholders shareholders in the water companies.

Neil WB
2021-10-26 07:26:34

A silver lining from Roberts article is the recognition that “.... the UK has only one system of pipes that takes both rainwater and sewage... “that information needs to be drummed into the minds of every M.P., Councillor, especially those involved in planning and decision makers. Every new car park, roof gutter and road scheme adds millions of gallons of fast discharging rainwater which overwhelms the sewage system. The simple solution is to stop building on our green spaces and where possible re nature brownfield sites...

David Forman
2021-10-27 13:48:05

I wonder if people have considered the effects of concreting or paving their front garden with an impermeable surface? The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) says, "Gardens can soak up rain, unlike paving, tarmac and concrete which are less porous and increase the amount of rainwater that runs off by as much as 50 percent." I wonder how many people realise that planning permission is required for a driveway area of more than five square metres of an impermeable material with no border or lawns to drain into? Consequently, I must ask if Harlow Council has ever taken action for non-compliance? Has Harlow Council ever done a survey to discover the non-compliant rogues? If you want more information on permeable surfacing, then check out this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/permeable-surfacing-of-front-gardens-guidance

Ros Deer
2021-10-29 06:39:05

Worth noting the Government's u-turn on placing more restrictive measures against water companies pumping sewage into rivers and sea was a lot to do with pressure from a shocked electorate. Detail of the Environment Bill's storm overflow amendment will be voted on next week; we must keep up the pressure by telling Mr Halfon we want him to carefully consider the amendment's wording. Government (and Mr Halfon) sound far too complacent about all of the Environment Bill's proposals - many of which have been diluted - making it less than fit for purpose.

James Griggs
2022-08-21 09:11:04

What a crock of sh*te The greatest lie of privatisation was that it would lead to unparalleled levels of investment. Had the estimated £57bn paid out to shareholders since 1991 been invested in the system maybe we wouldn’t be where we are now. Instead we have the ludicrous spectacle of Mr Halfon trying to defend the indefensible by churning out the environmental measures he does support as if the planting of a tree somehow compensates for pouring effluent into a river. The sewerage network is unfit for purpose due to a systemic failure to invest and maintain it. As always, it’s Tory profiteering taking precedence over social investment. The policy he supports has failed to deliver on an epic scale, as with all the other utilities. We need them back in public ownership immediately

S A harlow
2023-10-21 19:36:53

We really shouldn’t expect the companies we pay to manage our waste to dip into the millions of pound of profit they have stripped from these firms, no, let the people who have already paid enough to cover a lot of the infrastructure required pay again, we need meandering rivers and wetlands to slow run off from green land, a separate system for excess run off from urban areas, control of run off from paved roads, a separate system for sewage. Laws need to be much more strict for waste water management and regulatory bodies that are fit for purpose and willing to uphold the much stricter laws to the letter. Roll on GE24!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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