A group of Green Party campaigners including Baroness Jenny Jones gathered outside the office of Cherilyn Mackrory MP in Truro on Saturday to present a bottle of ‘Chateau Sewage’ as a reminder that South West Water is continuing to pollute Cornwall’s rivers and beaches on a massive scale.
The bottle contained water taken from Swanpool Beach near Falmouth, which was polluted by sewage 59 times in 2022 and has seen several sewage alerts already this year. The beach is close to two pumping station overflows, with untreated effluent from these also affecting nearby Gyllyngvase Beach.
Ms Mackrory, MP for Truro and Falmouth, was one of 265 Conservative MPs who voted down an amendment to the Environment Bill aimed at stopping water companies from dumping raw sewage into the UK’s waterways and coastal waters in August 2022. The amendment would have placed a legal duty on water companies in England and Wales to make improvements to their sewerage systems and demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage.
Karen La Borde, the Green Party’s parliamentary candidate for Truro and Falmouth, said:
“The profits of the privatised water companies rose to £1.4 billion last year. Meanwhile, Pennon Group, the parent company of South West Water, has just announced that it is raising its shareholder dividend by 10.9% to £112 million. Last year, South West Water’s chief executive was paid a bonus of over £1 million on top of her basic salary of around £456,000.
“It’s outrageous that shareholders and executives are profiting in this way from our water bills while the company is failing to clean up its disgusting and dangerous pollution of our waterways, and the government needs to do much more to stop this.”
Sarah Wetherill, the Green Party’s candidate in the upcoming Truro City Council election (Moresk and Trehaverne Ward), said:
“Sewage from the Newham Road pumping station was dumped in the Truro River on 28 occasions in 2022. It’s not just local residents this affects – this pollution is also extremely damaging to Cornwall’s reputation as a holiday destination, and to local businesses. Eleven of our shellfisheries have had to close this year after very high levels of bacteria from sewage and agricultural run-off were found in oysters and mussels.”
Baroness Jones said:
“The water companies’ recent apology and promise to spend £10 billion on new infrastructure just add insult to injury, because this is money they’re proposing to add to our water bills. Why should we be paying for their appalling failure to invest in the past? We need to make the polluters pay. Ofwat should act to stop undeserved dividend payments and fat cat pay-outs.
“The Green Party would like to see these companies taken back into public ownership and run for the public good rather than for private profit. In the meantime, they should be spending all available resources to tackle this extremely serious problem, rather than handing costs to consumers and profits to their shareholders.
“If they refuse to do this, they should be facing much larger fines that reflect the enormous damage they are doing to our natural environment and the threat to human health, and that prevent them from making any profit at all. If they continue to pollute then some of the fines should be used to buy back shares.”
Last year, there were more than 37,000 recorded sewage spills in the South West Water area and many that will have gone unmonitored, as testing only takes place between May and September.
As well as human waste, discharges often contain harmful chemicals, wet wipes and sanitary products, all of which pose a serious risk to wildlife, swimmers and others who use waterways and beaches.
Cornwall Green Party has set up a petition requesting Cornwall Council to call on Cornwall’s MPs to take stronger action on sewage pollution and to make South West Water pay for improvements to infrastructure.