'Every single river is polluted' - Former pop star Feargal Sharkey's warning over sewage crisis

  • Watch Rob Setchell's report for ITV News Anglia

Environmental campaigners have accused the government of "allowing the destruction of our rivers" over fears that not enough is being done to tackle pollution.

In January, a report from the Environmental Audit Committee warned that UK rivers were being polluted with a cocktail of chemicals, which could compromise both animal and human health.

The government has accepted most of the report's recommendations, pledging to improve water quality and invest in an overloaded Victorian sewerage system.

However some campaigners such as Feargal Sharkey, the former lead singer of The Undertones, who lives near the River Lee in Hertfordshire, says it is not enough.

"There is not a single river in England that meets good overall environmental health," he said.

"Every single river in the country is polluted and one of the largest sources of that pollution is the water industry, and what they do with sewage, both treated and untreated.

"The truth is the government has actually allowed - and granted a certificate to the water industry - to continue profiteering from the environmental destruction of our rivers."

Campaigners say the Government is not doing enough to protect our rivers. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Peter Clitheroe, who is campaigning to protect the River Gaywood in King's Lynn in Norfolk, said the chalk stream had been sabotaged by sewage.

"This is just so blatant that the river has died," he said. "It's very slowly evolved to a stage where it's not even seen as a river.

"It's seen as a means of moving dirty water and waste out to sea as quickly as possible. It's a drainage ditch, effectively, rather than the river it deserves to be."

The government has rejected calls for water companies to measure the volume of sewage being pumped into rivers.

Currently, it is the time over which it is discharged that is measured - a combined total of 2.7 million hours last year alone.

Rob Colwell, a Norfolk County Councillor, said Grimston sewage treatment plant spilled 159 times last year, for a total of 3,500 hours.

"That works out as something like 140 days of pure sewage," he said. "But what we're not told is the volume of water and surely that's an important thing that we need to know.

"How can you know where to focus your energy and effort and money precisely if we don't have that information?"

Gaywood River in King's Lynn is being damaged by pollution. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Environmental Audit Committee chairman Philip Dunne said: "Improving water quality in our rivers is not an easy task and will not be solved overnight.

"In 2021, sewage poured into our waterways over 370,000 times: this is simply unacceptable.

"But the government has clearly been listening and ministers have shown a determination to engage constructively with the committee's recommendations.

"The government response to our report is broadly positive, and I welcome moves to improve significantly the amount and analysis of monitoring, to hold water companies to account and better understand the dangerous chemical cocktail coursing through our waterways."

An Anglian Water spokesperson said: “We welcome the government’s response to the EAC Water Quality in Rivers inquiry.

"As part of our recently launched Get River Positive commitment we’ve set out a clear plan and demonstrable action in response to calls for a revival of rivers in England.

"Central to the pledges is the commitment to ensure that storm overflows are not the reason for unhealthy rivers in our region by 2030.

“As a business with ensuring environmental protection and prosperity at its core, we know what we need to achieve to improve river health and be trusted custodians of the natural environment.

"But if we are to succeed, it will also require equal effort from others, permission for increased investment from our regulators, and support from the government in creating a comprehensive plan to transform our environment in the long term.”