Swimming in sewage used to be viewed as “acceptable”, a Tory MP has claimed.
Damian Green, the MP for Ashford, told ITV’s Peston: “I remember as a child in South Wales swimming in sewage. Jackson’s Bay in Barry used to be a sewage outlet where we all paddled and swam.
“It was sort of regarded as acceptable – and of course, it wasn’t acceptable.”
Mr Green said that the issue of sewage spills in British rivers, which has attracted controversy over the past year, was a “problem” and a “big issue”, adding: “But it always has been.”
Speaking on the programme, Thérèse Coffey, the Environment Secretary, said she was “not surprised” by her low poll ratings on the issue of spillages, “especially when there’s a lot of misinformation out there – and somehow people think this is a brand-new issue”.
“Actually, what we’ve done is unveil the issue … I’ve insisted to water companies that by the end of June I want an action plan for every single storm overflow,” she added.
Water UK said that charging consumers for sewerage improvement works was “the only sustainable way” of providing funding.
The trade body on Thursday apologised on behalf of English water companies for sewage discharged into rivers and coastal areas, and said investors will front £10 billion to pay for improvements to storm overflows, aiming to cut the number of spills by up to 140,000 each year by 2030, compared with the level in 2020.
Customers will eventually repay all of that money with gradual rises in their bills, Water UK said.
Ruth Kelly, chairman of Water UK, told BBC Breakfast on Thursday that it could take between 50-100 years for the investment to be repaid.
A spokesman for the firm said: “Investors will put up the money, with the costs then paid back in modest increments each year through bills.
“This keeps costs down and protects customers against paying the billions needed up front.”