Sewage treatment plant seen from above

Statement on EA/​Ofwat announcement of investigation into sewage treatment works

by Michelle Walker, Deputy Technical Director

Rebecca Duncan


We welcome this long-overdue step up in enforcement of existing law by the regulators, provided it is rigorous and thorough, and leads to rapid and proportional penalties on businesses, managers and shareholders, with the money levied spent directly on fixing the environmental damage caused.

We need a long-term step-change in how privatised industry is regulated to safeguard the environment with the same level of scrutiny applied consistently to the whole wastewater treatment network, not just a subset of sites. People rightly expect that the government will hold profit-driven businesses to a high environmental standard in return for them taking a profit from essential services such as water and wastewater provision, but it is self-evident that this has not happened. An under-resourced Environment Agency has taken the path of least resistance, but some of the high profile court cases have shown just the tip of the iceberg of the consequences of lack of thorough enforcement of the law. Detailed auditing of wastewater treatment works and storm overflows should be the very least we can expect, yet we’ve seen more scrutiny being applied by citizen scientists than by the government regulator.

Public trust in the government and the water industry is at an all-time low, and the 40,000 people who wrote to their MPs recently have highlighted the need for much greater transparency in terms of enforcing regulation, consenting and monitoring of pollution from privatised industry.

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