On Wednesday 5 to Thursday 6 July, the High Court will hear a legal challenge that aims to force the Government to toughen up its plan for reducing sewage dumped in England’s rivers and seas. Good Law Project is supporting the Marine Conservation Society, Richard Haward’s Oysters and surfer and activist Hugo Tagholm as they argue that the Government’s strategy is inadequate, allowing water companies to pollute waters and beaches for another 27 years.
England’s sewers were designed with 14,500 storm overflows to stop them becoming overwhelmed, allowing a mixture of surface water and sewage to be discharged during heavy rainfall. But according to the Environment Agency, these overflows are now used on a routine basis. Water companies discharged untreated sewage through storm overflows more than 300,000 times in 2022 for a total of 1.7 million hours.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan to tackle this in August last year. It imposed a deadline of 2035 for reducing the sewage flowing into bathing waters and areas of ecological importance, but gave companies until 2050 to stop discharges elsewhere.
This legal challenge, which has been backed by cross-party MPs, aims to force the Government to bring forward these deadlines and introduce tougher targets.