Tory sewage dumping shows why we should never trust Westminster with our natural resources
Cefin Campbell MS, Plaid Cymru Rural Affairs spokesperson
Wales is home to 45 Blue Flag status beaches, and a whole range of unique biodiversity along our rivers and waterways.
We know that as things stand, the ecosystems that support our nature and wildlife are in crisis. Plaid Cymru pushed for the Welsh Government to declare a Nature Emergency this year, on top of the already declared Climate Crisis.
We’ve called for serious action to protect habitats, clean air and clean water. We fully support the introduction of legally binding nature recovery targets too.
However, the cleanliness of water on and surrounding this island where we live has been thrown into the spotlight of late, as it emerged that raw sewage was dumped onto Welsh and English beaches a combined 2,900 times last year.
The WWF states that there are 17,684 licensed sewer overflows across Wales and England which discharge untreated sewage directly into the environment. Of these, 89% discharge into rivers.
This will come as a great shock to many people. The importance that beaches and rivers play in supporting biodiversity is immeasurable, as well as the importance they hold for everyone who visits them.
However, what can be measured is the danger that pollutants cause: swallowing water contaminated by sewage can make people sick as it can contain risk bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli. For wildlife, toxins accumulate and travel up the food chain over time, infecting fish, birds and mammals.
Westminster and Brexit
Unfortunately, it’s true to say that the pressures on our sewage systems are partly due to Brexit. Wastewater plants were told last month that they can discharge sewage without treating it properly because of chemical shortages caused by Brexit supply chain issues.
We were promised that Brexit would not see a reduction of our environmental standards – but less than a year after the end of the transition – the Tories have reneged on another promise.
Yet Brexit can’t be blamed for everything. Last week, to the despair of environmental campaigners, the Tories in Westminster, including 10 Welsh Tory MPs, rejected an amendment that would have blocked the discharge of untreated sewage to Britain’s coastal waters.
This is no less than a sanctioning of water pollution.
More to be done in Wales
Water is rightly devolved to the Senedd, and the Welsh Government has taken some quite forceful steps to curb water pollution, such as the ‘one size fits all’ NVZ policy. This particular policy has been criticised by farming unions and communities throughout my region, such as along the Teifi valley, where many building developments have been halted, citing potential water pollution concerns.
Yet at the same time, I’ve heard reports of sewage dumping licenses being given to water companies to dump waste in our rivers. This does not seem logical.
If the Welsh Government is committed to tackling water pollution, it is hard to see why it decided to hand back powers to Westminster when it comes to legislating on sewage.
The Plaid Cymru group in the Senedd voted against the Legislative Consent Motion on this Bill as we believe our Parliament in Wales should be the one to decide how we manage our own natural resources. We’ve also pressured the Welsh Government to establish a robust and independent environmental governance body for Wales, which we are currently lacking.
I’m sure that the Welsh Government will not be pleased with the direction taken by Westminster on this issue in the last week, and it should be considered a valuable lesson: laws that affect Wales should be made in Wales.
The people of Wales have given the Senedd the power to legislate on our environment for a reason, and we should never trust Westminster to protect Wales’s natural resources.
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