Liberal Democrats are claiming a decisive victory in their campaign against river pollution after the government have accepted an amendment put forward by a Lib Dem MP.
The original bill provided unrestricted taxpayer funding to water companies, despite their history of polluting and awarding large bonuses to executives.
The amendment requires water companies to present a costed and timed plan for ending sewage discharges into rivers in order to receive funding from the UK Infrastructure Bank.
The amendment was supported by Conservatives—including Ross-on-Wye's MP Jesse Norman and Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper, Liberal Democrats, and Rob Roberts (independent). The SNP, Green, Social Democratic and Labour Party, DUP, Plaid Cymru, and two independents voted against the amendment.
Richard Foord, the Liberal Democrat MP for Tiverton & Honiton, said that the amendment is a victory for the millions of people who have expressed their anger towards water companies contaminating rivers and wildlife. He added that the party will continue their efforts to end the environmental scandal, but acknowledges that there is still much work to be done. The government has yet to ban sewage discharges in swimming areas and habitats for protected wildlife and has not taken action against water company CEOs who award themselves bonuses while the issue persists. Foord vows to continue holding the government and water companies accountable.
Last week the Gazette reported that Jesse Norman had faced continued criticism for his voting record on pollution in the River Wye. A Twitter argument between Mayor Ed O’Driscoll and Mr. Norman took place over the weekend. Following a vote on the environment bill in the Commons, Ross-on-Wye mayor Ed O’Driscoll stated that Mr Norman "talks a lot about cleaning up the River Wye, but when it really matters..." To which Mr. Norman replied that he supports the UK's first legally binding targets, significant capital investment by water companies, and a robust enforcement regime with a new regulator. However, Mayor O’Driscoll retorted that the targets are "pathetically weak" and will only benefit water company shareholders.
The argument arose after votes on draft environmental targets on January 25, where Mr. Norman, along with Monmouth's David Davies and Forest of Dean's Mark Harper, voted in favour of his party's targets. In response, around 20 local protesters against sewage dumping and phosphates run-off from chicken factories into the River Wye placed satirical blue plaques on bridges in Hereford to highlight the dire state of the waterways. The plaques, erected by Marches Climate Action, a branch of Marches Extinction Rebellion, were installed as part of a national day of action across the UK and emphasize the government's failure to tighten environmental regulations and stop water companies from prioritizing profits. The plaques read: "Jesse Norman abstained on a vote requiring water companies to dump less raw sewage into our waterways and seas, October 20, 2021."