Coffey claims ending sewage saga 'overnight' would drive water bill hikes

Therese Coffey/ sewage scandal (PA)
Environment secretary Therese Coffey insisted her party deserves credit for lifting the lid on the sewage scandal. Credit: PA

Therese Coffey has claimed that trying to end the sewage scandal "overnight" would result in waste backing up into people's homes, or huge increases in families' water bills.

Speaking on ITV's Peston, the environment secretary claimed that the only reason we know about the scale of the problem is because the Conservative government "lifted the lid" on it. 

"A decade ago, this monitoring wasn't being done. It's only thanks to Conservative action that we got the monitoring to really be happening at scale. 

"And so that's unveiled the scale of the problem."

Ms Coffey said that "misinformation" around the scandal was part of the reason that she fared so badly in a survey of Conservative members - that placed her at the bottom of a list of Cabinet ministers. 

"This isn't an easy topic to solve, and we can see that in London - the Thames Tideway tunnel - the Super Sewer- construction started a decade ago. It is still not done." 

She argued that when it is complete - storm overflows would not need to be used. They are used when the weather is bad - and water infrastructure risks getting overwhelmed. To prevent sewage backing up into homes - it is instead pumped into rivers or the sea. 

The government has published a plan to try to tackle the problem - but it starts by only focusing on bathing areas (missing out hundreds of coastal areas and huge swathes of rivers) and some of it is not due to be complete until 2050. 

When I asked Ms Coffey about it, she said: "It terms of people who've suggested this can be done overnight - and that is the Liberal Democrat view - it seems to me they would be happy for sewage to back up into people's homes. 

"And the Labour party - what they are suggesting - there was an impact assessment on that years ago suggested to £1,000 on people's bills."

But she knows the issue is politically toxic - almost certainly contributing to the Lib Dems' success in local elections. 

The Marine Conservation Society says sewage was spilt into the sea from storm overflows for 263,654 hours in 2021.

And it warns that there are marine protected areas that will not be part of the initial government places despite being important sites for wading birds, shellfish and seagrass. 

Also on Peston - Tory MP Damian Green talked about swimming in sewage in south Wales as a child - arguing it was seen as acceptable then.

But the comments were badly mocked on social media, including by Gary Lineker and the scientist Brian Cox. 

The Labour party responded by highlighting sewage spills in his Kent constituency. 

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