The MP for Oxford East, Labour’s Anneliese Dodds, has called on the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to stop the disposal of raw sewage into the Thames and other local rivers.
A recent report by the Oxford River Improvement Campaign (ORIC) has found that almost half the raw sewage works in the Upper Thames area discharged raw sewage into the river for over ten hours a week last year. Out of the 104 Thames Water sewage stations under automatic monitoring, 102 stations dumped untreated sewage, combining to over 68,000 hours of discharge into the river system.
The Thames is not the only river affected, with the nearby Cherwell also suffering pollution due to untreated sewage. Both rivers are used by the public for swimming and students during post-exam celebrations, raising health concerns. Oxford residents have also protested about river pollution in recent months.
In response, Dodds has written to George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, stating that “rapid action” is needed in to halt pollution of the river.
This comes after parliamentary plans for the Environment Bill (2021) were scrapped, including amendments that would have forced large water companies such as Thames Water to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sewage overflow from being dumped into local rivers.
While Dodds voted in favour of the preventative amendment, other MPs disagreed – voting it down 268 to 204, with a majority of 64.
Speaking on the pollution reports, Dodds stated that Labour was committed to “fixing the broken system, by toughening up laws on pollution by reviewing enforcements and sanctions, and introducing penalties for under-reporting of incidents.”
She further added: “This disturbing report outlines the disgusting extent of untreated sewage outflows into Oxford’s rivers, which have worsened since the Conservative Government’s loosening of regulations. Rapid action is needed now, and Labour’s plan would deliver this.”