Shropshire Star

Warning for water bosses over 'appalling' sewage as shadow minister visits Shrewsbury

A Labour MP hit out at "appalling" raw sewage dumping in Shrewsbury - and warned water company bosses raking in huge bonuses they will face criminal prosecution under the party's watch.

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Toby Perkins, shadow minister for nature and rural affairs, joined Labour's Shrewsbury candidate Julia Buckley on the banks of the River Severn to discuss water quality and flooding problems blighting the town's main waterway ahead of the general election.

The party plan to give regulator Ofwat the power to stop big bonuses if firms are illegally dumping sewage.

It comes after we reported Severn Trent chief executive Liv Garfield's bumper pay packet of £3.18 million for the last financial year, which included £584,000 in annual bonuses.

Mr Perkins, who is MP for Chesterfield and Staveley, told the Shropshire Star: "This is an issue that is far bigger than it has ever been before. People are absolutely appalled by the sewage dumping that has been going on.

"We need to hold water companies responsible. We want to ban the bonuses of water company bosses illegally dumping raw sewage into the rivers.

"We think withholding financial incentives will make a real difference.

"There will be nothing off the table, whether it be financial or criminal sanctions."

Mrs Buckley, who YouGov suggest is "likely" to oust Conservative Daniel Kawczynski from his Shrewsbury seat in an early poll, added: “Labour will ensure monitoring is independent; fines are issued and - ultimately - water bosses will made personally criminally liable for damage. This could see water bosses prosecuted and even imprisoned if sewage pollution continues to blight our river and our town. Labour are really serious on this issue and we will tackle this scourge once and for all”.

The news of the Severn Trent boss's pay comes after news that water pollution incidents rose to 239 for the year ending March 31, up 24 per cent on the year before.

Meanwhile, customers suffered 6,721 external sewer flooding incidents - when pipes flood people's gardens, driveways and external buildings - a greater than 25 per cent annual increase.

Locally, Salopians have reported getting ill from swimming in the River Severn, while fishing in parts of the town has been ruined, with anglers reporting catching sanitary towels and wet wipes on the end of their lines.

It has led to numerous marches and campaigns to try and improve the issue of water quality, and the town has recently been awarded bathing water status for a section of the river, so it will be monitored by the Environment Agency so people know when sewage has been dumped in and when it is less safe to swim.

Mr Perkins was also joined by Siobhan Connor, a resident who lives near the Quarry and has faced floods time and again in recent years, and Labour councillor for Belle Vue and Coleham Kate Halliday, whose constituents regularly are confronted with flood woes when the river bursts it banks.

Siobhan, who runs the Shrewsbury Quarry Flood Action Group, said: "We've flooded 20 times since 2000.

"I have felt abandoned. We felt abandoned in Shrewsbury. The help has not been sufficient. You have to rely on being together as a community."

Councillor Halliday described the situation as "very traumatic" for people in her ward affected by floods.

Mrs Buckley said: "We've got funeral directors and dentists that can't be accessed because the road is closed.

"One of the things we propose to do is to have Cobra-style meetings every October to work out what residents need so we can put things in place before it happens."

Mr Perkins said: "This is something very personal to me in Chesterfield. We have been flooded very badly.

"People here have been flooded 20 times. It's infringing on your life in those circumstances."

He also discussed the impact of climate change on the town, adding: "Everyone in Shrewsbury who is impacted by floods is a victim of climate change.

"People talk about climate change as though it is something that will be happening in the future. It is happening right now.

"You have an MP that doesn't take it seriously. People here have felt abandoned for too long. I think Julia will be a great advocate for the people in this town if people give her a chance."

When announcing his candidacy for Shrewsbury, Mr Kawczynski pointed to the group of 39 MPs which he set up to collectively lobby for £500m of funding to "tame" the river and mitigate flooding in the community as one of the "critical major economic projects" he has been focusing on.

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