‘Insults’ thrown at town hall over polluted rivers in Rotherham

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Plans to write to the government over sewage in Rotherham’s waters sparked a fiery debate at the town hall this week.

Rotherham Council’s ruling Labour Party put forward a proposal to send a letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs requesting that the government set out a strategy to reduce and eliminate sewage discharged into rivers and sea.

During the debate at full council on Wednesday (July 19), Cllr David Sheppard (Labour) said he was sure fellow members were disgusted by the recent statistics relating to sewage discharged into rivers and seas.

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He added: “In England in 2022, private water companies released sewage directly into our rivers and seas on over 300,000 separate occasions – totalling 1.75 million hours worth of sewage.”

Rotherham Town Hall.Rotherham Town Hall.
Rotherham Town Hall.

Locally, Cllr Sheppard added, the borough recorded more than 1,700 occasions when “Yorkshire Water or Severn Trent Water allowed sewage to enter our rivers and streams for a total of 10,500 hours”.

Labelling this “horrific poisoning”, Cllr Sheppard said privatisation of England’s water companies had “failed spectacularly” as it resulted in the creation of “a series of private monopolies”.

Cllr Sheppard’s motion also called on Yorkshire Water and Severn Trent Water as well as the Environment Agency to attend a meeting to explain what measures are being taken to solve the issue.

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From the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Drew Tarmey (LibDems) said all rivers in England were polluted “beyond the legal limit” and he blamed central government for letting the Environmental Agency’s funding fall drastically.

Cllr Michael Bennett-Sylvester (Independent) said the entire issue was indicative of a “government that cannot govern and cannot deliver basic services”.

He added “we’ve had anarchy for three years” and the only interest for companies was shareholders rather than delivering services to people.

Cllr Simon Ball (Conservative), the leader of the opposition, said the issue was not new, as “sewage has been entering our waterways since the Victorian ages”.

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Cllr Ball added: “Maybe Cllr Sheppard and Cllr (Gina) Monk can provide the figures for how much sewage was discharged in the waterways of Rotherham from 1997 to 2010. They say the amount has increased. It would be good to see the actual figures for this.

“Now, I ask this because, of course, it does not exist.

“It is not just a UK problem, across Europe we have antiquated sewage systems with storm overflows.

“I am proud that it was the Conservatives that finally recognised this problem. Indeed, can anyone remember any Labour MP or councillor raising this matter before Tory MPs pushed for better monitoring of our rivers during the coalition government and then for tougher measures and penalties in our Environment Bill?

“Labour did nothing.”

He added the Government’s Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, published in August 2022, “set out stringent targets to protect people and the environment and is backed up by up to £56 billion capital investment, which is the largest infrastructure programme in water company history”.

Cllr Ian Jones (Independent) said he found it “hilarious” to watch the two political parties throw insults at each other over who’s responsible for our polluted rivers.

The motion was carried.