We have become fixated with beating up water and sewage treatment companies over storm overflows. This is motivated by a desire to bring an end to the practice of releasing foul water into rivers and the sea when the sewage system is overwhelmed. Storm overflows have also become a political hot potato on which to berate Tory MPs but MPs from all sides care about this issue and, as a Cornish MP who regularly swims in the sea at Long Rock, with my children, I’m alert to the need to address the issue once and for all. And it’s not just to improve the quality of the water for leisure pursuits, but for marine life and the importance of our rivers and oceans as an ecological system. I find the debate frustrating because we fail to acknowledge that what goes into the foul water system must come out somewhere. This includes the water and waste we use in our existing homes and most new homes (which constantly adds to pressure to the system). In much of Cornwall, it includes run off from roads, roofs, and the land surface when it rains and, if we were to switch off storm overflows tomorrow, homes would be vulnerable to wastewater finding its way back in. In Cornwall, in order to reduce storm overflows, septic tanks could not be emptied last year. That meant care homes, private homes and businesses could not empty their septic tanks. It was havoc. It was driven by the need to clean up what we put on our land, which I support, and by the need to reduce storm overflows, which I also support, but you cannot be left with homes unable to access basic sanitation. Following from MPs, the Environment Agency adjusted the permits and Southwest Water is increasing temporary storage.
However, political point scoring seeks to hide what is being done to address storm overflows. Water companies are to be set legally-binding targets to slash the amount of foul water discharged into waterways. Targets to cut overflows already exist and under this Government, monitoring of overflows is now robust and at almost 100% (compared to 7% in 2010). The debate must move beyond beating up water companies and Tory MPs. Every Conservative MP has voted in support of Government regulation to correct the problem without causing disgusting consequences for residents and communities.
Moving to a much more pleasant topic, the Coronation has arrived, and we will once again celebrate together and make memories to look back on. The Late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee was a welcome community celebration last year, and whilst we united to mark Her Majesty’s passing which came so quickly after the 70-year anniversary, I hope we embrace the opportunity to meet with friends and neighbours acknowledging the enduring strength and stabilising nature of our Monarchy, the new King Charles and his Queen. Some of us will also enjoy Helston’s Flora Day which could not have been timed more perfectly!