Put an end to “a legacy of Victorian infrastructure” from the 19th century. The British government wants to reduce to zero discharges of untreated sewage into the sea by 2050, colossal investment which will result in a rise in consumer bills, the environment minister said on Saturday.
Water utilities will need to invest around £56bn (€66bn) to refurbish sewage systems, according to a government plan presented on Friday. It is a matter of “revolutionizing our sewerage network”, stressed George Eustice, interviewed by BBC4 radio, noting the 15,000 or so sewage pipes that flow into the sea.
Many beaches in the UK are closed to swimming
Untreated sewage can thus be discharged in large quantities, especially when the evacuation systems are saturated by heavy rainstorms, as happened last week. Thus, at the height of the summer season, many beaches in Britain were prohibited from swimming due to the health risk.
On Friday, the president of the Hauts-de-France region (northern France), Xavier Bertrand, had warned the French government about these sewage discharges, an “ecological disaster” which he said had worsened since Brexit. As for George Eustice, he assured that the current British government, which has only a few days left in its existence pending the Conservative Party’s appointment of a successor to Boris Johnson on September 5, was “the first to seriously take address this matter.”.
Around £12 a year and per household
“The reason this decision has been pushed back by successive governments, both Labor and Conservative, for decades is because we wanted to keep water bills down, and we can understand that,” pleaded George Eustice.
Water utilities must have refurbished pipes discharging near designated bathing areas under the government plan by 2035 and the others by 2050. The extra cost to consumers in 2030 will be around £12 a year per cubic meter. household and £42 in 2050.
The Liberal Democrat opposition called the plan a “cruel joke” and estimated there would still be 325,000 sewage spills a year in 2030 into the sea, lakes or rivers. The European Commission said on Thursday that it would soon respond to complaints from MEPs on the issue.