Waste water discharges from water companies could cost UK £150bn: Lord Hollick slams chiefs and regulators for failing to prevent discharges into rivers

Lord Hollick, the chairman of Britain’s official water industry inquiry committee, this weekend slammed chiefs and regulators for failing to prevent millions of tonnes of dirty sewage being dumped into rivers – and said the problem could cost at least £150 billion to fix sterling.

The Labor MP, the former owner of Express Newspapers, spoke of his “dismay” at evidence given to the Lords Committee on Industry and Regulation about the dire state of water infrastructure after decades of underinvestment. According to the latest data, there were 375,000 leaks of untreated sewage into rivers in 2021 alone.

Hollick said the state of Britain’s sewerage and water systems was a “very serious problem” that would require “huge funding and investment” to address. He added that the lowest figure he had heard so far for the investment needed to tackle the sewage problem was £150bn.

The problem: 375,000 untreated sewage spills into rivers in 2021 alone, according to latest figures

Stopping the leaks could add £100 billion to the bill, he said. Other estimates of the required upgrades ranged as high as £600 billion.

Money is likely to come from water companies, along with significant sums from taxpayers and higher bills for customers.

Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, told the committee he was unaware of the extent of the problem until water quality monitoring was stepped up over the past two years. Hollick said he was “surprised” by Bevan’s comments. The industry is overseen by the regulator Ofwat and the agency.

Hollick said: “It is surprising that neither the government nor the two regulatory bodies took action some time ago. This is an industry-wide failure that needs to be fixed now.”

He added that the public had helped reveal the extent of pollution and leaks, saying: “MPs have been hearing from constituents for a long time that they cannot swim in the river or the sea. We will be very interested to hear from Environment Minister Ranil Jayawardene as to why the government has not been more decisive and persistent in addressing this issue.”

The chief executive and chairman of Ofwat will appear before the committee this week, and Jayawardena in the coming weeks.