Public want faster government action on sewage pollution, according to recent survey

18,000 members of the public took part in the consultation on Defra’s draft Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan and the results show that the vast majority think timelines for several of its flagship targets are “much too long”, according to analysis by 38 Degrees, in partnership with The Rivers Trust.

The consultation period on Defra’s plan, which sets out targets for water companies to reduce the harm caused by sewage pollution from combined sewer (or storm) overflows, closed yesterday (12th May). It commits to improving 100% of storm overflows by 2050, with issues at all high priority sites such as high amenity spots and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) addressed by 2045. The plan was heavily criticised by environmental groups and campaigners for being too narrow in focus and unambitious.

Campaigning organisation 38 Degrees facilitated public engagement in the consultation, with over 18,000 people responding via their website. Their results give an interesting first sight of public opinion on the matter.  38 Degrees asked additional questions because it believes Defra’s consultation questions were ambiguous and didn’t make it clear what people agree and disagree with.

The results show that whilst, a slight majority disagree with the government’s targets overall, overwhelming majorities want to see government acting much sooner:

  • 85% think the target to eliminate the ecological impact of storm overflows by 2050 is much too long;
  • 77% think the target to significantly reduce harm from storm overflows to designated bathing waters by 2035 is much too long;
  • 78% think the target for storm overflows to discharge, on average, less than 10 times per year by 2050 is much too long;
  • 84% think the overall timing of the plan is much too long.


Megan Bentall, Head of Campaigns at 38 Degrees, said:”The government’s plans lack the ambition and urgency needed to properly tackle this issue – and their consultation didn’t offer the public enough opportunity to share their views on this important topic

“That’s why 38 Degrees took matters into our own hands – and the results speak for themselves: the vast majority of people who completed our consultation survey said the government’s timelines are far too long. People up and down the country are calling on the government to move much more quickly to tackle this issue once and for all. It’s time Ministers listened.”

 Christine Colvin from The Rivers Trust added: “This public response to the timelines proposed by Defra supports the stance that environmental groups have taken ever since this plan was first published. Given the loss of nature in our rivers and the current levels of pollution, we are asking for a much more urgent response to sewage pollution and this plan will be critical in achieving that.  We want to see much more ambition in the next draft – the government have been given a clear signal in this consultation that this is too little, too late.”



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