Steve Coogan blasts United Utilities 'greenwashing' over Windermere pollution

Steve Coogan joined the Save Windermere campaign outside the United Utilities information centre

Actor Steve Coogan has accused water company United Utilities of "greenwashing" and "PR spin" as he criticised the company for putting sewage into Windermere.

The I’m Alan Partridge star joined a protest outside the company's North West offices near the lake as he called on the Government to compel them to clean up England’s largest lake rather than pay huge dividends to shareholders.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: "United Utilities have a big PR machine and they put nice fancy offices up like this and say we’re working together with the people of Windermere, but it’s all a smokescreen to distract attention from what they’ve been doing over the last 30 years, which is putting treated and untreated sewage into Lake Windermere.

"It’s to such an extent that there are toxic levels of algae, there are algae blooms that show the nitrate levels are like through the roof. And they’ve been doing this year on year."

He added: "They have been paying out record dividends to shareholders, there’s no excuse for this. We’re telling them to stop putting sewage in the lake and take out what they put in."

Coogan joined protestors outside United Utilities North West office. Credit: Good Morning Britain

A United Utilities spokesperson said: “Over the last 20 years we have invested over £75m improving our wastewater services around Windermere which has halved the levels of phosphorus entering the lake from our systems since 2015 and contributing to all four of the lake’s bathing waters being classed as ‘Excellent’.

“We are currently making an early start on a further £41m of planned investment to meet the new requirements of the Environment Act 2021, which means customers will not be paying twice.

"It’s part of a proposed £14 billion investment programme, supported by our customers, to improve water and wastewater services across the North West between 2025 and 2030.

“Our Windermere information centre has been open for nearly a year and it’s a cost effective way for our team to engage with customers and our local community on lots of different topics – from water meters and bills to our ongoing investment as well as being a venue for special events like our graduate and apprenticeship recruitment programmes.

“We’re committed to playing our part, but we can’t do it on our own. We continue to support the Love Windermere Partnership which is working to address all sources of lake pollution including private sewage systems, highways run off and pollution from land.”

Coogan said the company should not be allowed to pass on the cost of cleaning up to the lake to bill payers but rather should deny their shareholders a dividend for a few years.

He said: "Either they need to do it themselves, which I doubt they will because they are powerless to their shareholders, or the Government needs to act."

Addressing why is it legal for the company to put sewage in the lake, Coogan said: "What makes it more obscene is it’s almost like the business model is predicated on the ability to put sewage in a lake and not do anything about it, because to sort that problem would require a huge investment that they are not prepared to put into it."

The actor said the money the company is investing in addressing the issue is "chicken feed" in comparison to the profits and the grants are "PR spin and greenwashing".

He added: "It is all to stop people looking at the fundamental problem, which is they are the biggest polluters in this country, the biggest water utility company pollutes British waterways.

"The lakes are there for everyone, people who can’t afford holidays abroad to be able to use the lake for recreation and it’s threatening that."

Coogan joined protestors from the Save Windermere campaign, who have been holding a weekly strike outside the United Utilities information centre every Monday since the start of November.

Last Monday, 8 April, punk singer turned environmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey joined forces with Save Windermere to campaign against sewage.

United Utilities said it has spent £75 million on wastewater treatment to halve the amount of phosphorus that goes into the lake. Credit: ITV News

Asked how he could defend dumping untreated sewage into the lake, Chris Matthews, of United Utilities, told the programme: "We share the concerns that Steve has expressed there, and many other people, about the overflow operations and the impact on local water courses and are investing to tackle this problem.

"We are investing to tackle this problem here at Windermere, we’ve spent £75 million on our wastewater treatment to halve the amount of phosphorus that goes into the lake."

Chris Matthews, from United Utilities, said the company is taking the problem 'extremely seriously'

He added: "We are taking this problem extremely seriously as part of a huge investment programme."

He told the show that customer bills will be increasing to help fund the programme, saying: "It’s going to be about £25 a year that bills will go up, about £2 a month, to help fund what is a £14 billion plan."

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