MPs hit back as river sewage vote row breaks out

Shropshire MPs have hit back over furious criticism of the way most of them voted on the issue of how to stop sewage being allowed to overflow into rivers including the Severn.

The river Severn
The river Severn

Of the seven Conservative MPs representing the Shropshire and Powys areas only one - Ludlow's Philip Dunne - voted against the Government to reject an amendment that would have banned water companies from discharging raw sewage into rivers.

Mr Dunne said the Government has introduced several measures that will help focus the attention of "water companies on improving treatment to reduce sewage discharges."

But he rebelled because the amendment was virtually the same as the main clause driving his own Private Members Bill last year. The amendment was lost by 268 votes to 204 in a vote last week.

He added: "I would hope the government would reflect on the growing awareness of the need to protect our rivers and consider building on its existing commitments to place a duty on water companies to reduce sewage discharges year-by-year.”

But Mr Dunne's fellow Shropshire Tories were facing a furious reaction on Twitter as critics claimed Tory MPs had voted to support the dumping of raw sewage.

They have now hit back, accusing opponents of spreading "misinformation."

North Shropshire MP and former environment secretary Owen Paterson says he is "strongly opposed to storm overflows containing untreated sewerage discharging into rivers.

"It is disgusting, environmentally damaging and needs to stop."

Mr Paterson said he believed the "immediate impact of banning storm overflows would be for raw sewage to be diverted into our streets during extreme rain events."

He insists that the Government is working on introducing a comprehensive package of measures and claimed that the costs were unclear - between £150 billion and £660 billion - which would have an impact on bills.

Craig Williams, the MP for Montgomeryshire, rejected the "huge amount of hyperbole and disinformation about a recent vote on Environment Bill Amendment to outlaw storm flows."

He also claimed that banning storm flows would mean "flooding in our streets and home with sewage instead."

Simon Baynes, the MP for Clwyd South said: "I would not vote for sewage to be pumped into our local waters.

"It was voted down because it was uncosted and the cost of implementing it was estimated to be up to £650 billion. This cost would have to be recouped through our tax or water bills - around £21,000 more for each individual tax payer in the UK."

But the row continues to rumble on.

Shrewsbury surgeon Mark Cheetham, who has launched a petition calling on the Government to ban pollution from agriculture in the Wye and Severn River catchments, also tweeted to his MP.

"Shrewsbury is renowned for its beautiful river views, fishing and burgeoning businesses on and around the river Severn. He rejected placing a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers and inland waters."

And Stephanie Holden, a Coton Hill campaigner planning a demonstration in Shrewsbury on November 20, said she "did not understand" the stance of her MP, Daniel Kawczynski of Shrewsbury and Atcham.

"This was the only way we could put legal restrictions on companies who dump raw sewage and other pollutants into our rivers.

"He has really let us down by not voting for this amendment."

Helen Ball, the town clerk at Shrewsbury Town Council, said on Twitter: "#Sewage trending at No2 on Twitter - just shows the strength of feeling from the public about discharging into our rivers and sea. Would love to take Daniel Kawczynski and the heads of @EnvAgency and @stwater on a walk to show impact."

Luke Pollard MP, Labour's shadow Defra secretary, said: "The Government is to blame for allowing water companies to vent raw sewage into our rivers and sea seemingly at will.

"The Conservatives should urgently U-turn on their decision to block the Environment Bill amendment so that water companies are forced to reduce the amount of sewage they pump into our rivers and seas.

"The millions which go to shareholders do nothing to help with cleaning up our rivers and seas."

Telford MP Lucy Allan has advised her constituents to "read the detail of the bill carefully rather than relying on Twitter". She also seeks to explain why a shortage of sewage cleaning chemicals has not lead to more releases of sewage into the river system.

Shrewsbury and Atcham MP Daniel Kawczynski's office was preparing a statement on his behalf.

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