Sewage 'not acceptable' says Green Party co-leader on visit to Cornwall

still of Green Party members
Carla Denyer (on right) meets with Truro City councillors at Malpas

Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer has been visiting Cornwall over the weekend to hear local concerns over water pollution.

Ms Denyer met other Green Party members from Truro City Council who are calling to an end to sewage discharges from the Newham Sewage Treatment Works into the Truro River.

In 2022, the sewer storm overflow at Newham STW spilled 25 times for a total of 266.50 hours, discharging into the Truro River Estuary, according to official monitoring data shared by The Rivers Trust.

Truro River at Malpas Credit: ITV News

Speaking to ITV News during her visit on 2 September, Ms Denyer said her party is calling for water companies to be in public ownership:

Ms Denyer said: "It's not acceptable that this level of sewage discharge is happening all over the country.

"By bringing water companies into public ownership, it means the government or councils or even local co-operatives can be motivated by what is right for people here, and for the region and for the wildlife.

"They can make those investments which in the long term will pay off and will be better for our health, the wildlife and for the economy."

Truro City Councillor for Tregolls Ward, Dr David Sünderhauf, is a Microbiologist and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Exeter.

He says it's 'painful' to see sewage being released into the region's rivers and seas - and it could harm people's health in more complex ways.

He told ITV News: "We need to think about the human health impact and what gets released when you have sewage spills. It is also pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, anything that might go down the toilet is released in sewage.

"If we have these things growing together with bacteria they can lead to super-bugs being released onto our beaches and into our rivers which can then cause problems in humans."

Green Party Truro City Councillor Karen La Borde agreed that the area needs protecting.

She said: "This area is part of the Fal estuary and it is an area of special conservation, so this is vital for an eco system that supports wading birds with the shellfish that's in the mudflats, this is not just a nationally recognised site, this is an internationally important site."

Newham STW (top right of picture) Credit: ITV News

South West Water, which operates the Newham Road Sewage Treatment Works, said in a statement: "Reducing the use of storm overflows is one of our key priorities as part of our WaterFit programme. We have installed 100% monitoring on our storm overflows, ahead of target.

"We recognise the vital economic importance of our regions designated shellfish waters, and we are investing further to continue to bring down spills here and across our 860 miles of coastline.

"There is a wide range of influences which affect river and sea quality (not just storm overflows), including agricultural and urban pollution, and we recognise that to improve the quality of our waters, we all need to play our part."

The government told ITV News it is taking action on the issue.

A spokesperson for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "The Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, published in August 2022, set out stringent targets to protect people and the environment.

"Delivering this will require the largest infrastructure programme in water company history - £56 billion capital investment over 25 years.

"We work closely with partners to monitor shellfish sites, and we have been clear with water companies that the ongoing pollution of our waters is unacceptable."

In April 2023, South West Water confirmed it would be upgrading the sewage infrastructure at points around the River Fal to improve water quality for shellfish and bathing.

The biggest investment within this programme is focussed on accelerating delivery on storm overflows. Between Falmouth and Sidmouth, the total project cost is £70 million, with £25 million being spent in the next two years.

Their total investment for the Falmouth area includes £13.2 million by 2025, with a total of £40 million by 2030.