Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said Government legislation would put plans to stem storm overflows on a “legal footing”.
She added yesterday: “Water companies need to clean up their act and need to cover the costs.
“But the hard truth is that however much we want to see this fixed immediately, the scale and complexity means there is no way we can stop pollution overnight.
“I am using the full force of my powers to make sure we stop damage caused by storm overflows as quickly as possible.
“That includes our plans to put costed and credible target on a new legal footing.” The Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, published last August, aims to eliminate sewage dumping by 2050. It hopes to cut discharges close to “high priority” areas by 75 per cent by 2035 and 100 per cent by 2045.
The former includes sites of special scientific interest, special areas of conservation and other environmentally sensitive areas.
The Daily Express Green Britain Needs You campaign has highlighted the state of the nation’s waterways. There were more than 300,000 sewage spills into rivers and seas from storm overflows across England last year.
Labour forced a vote in the Commons last night on its own draft legislation aimed at ending sewage dumping.
The party’s Opposition day motion for a debate on the Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill was introduced by shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon.
MPs voted 290 to 188 in favour of the Government’s amendment to Labour’s motion, which deleted mention of the Opposition’s bid to introduce draft legislation aimed at ending sewage dumping. Environment charities welcomed the announcement of legally binding targets but want ministers to do more.
Wildlife and Countryside Link, which represents 70 organisations including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Woodland Trust, said the proposals would allow discharges to continue for more than 20 years and called for storm overflows to be eliminated in high priority sites by 2030.
Chief executive Richard Benwell said: “Legally binding targets are welcome, but matching the Government’s storm overflows plan would allow sewage to pour into sensitive wildlife sites for another 20 years or more.
“That’s terrible for globally important habitats like chalk streams and vulnerable wildlife. Targets must be faster.”
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