Oxfordshire Liberal Democrats

The long-term causes of our sewage problems in West Oxfordshire

Charlie Maynard, our candidate for Standlake, Aston and Stanton Harcourt in elections on May 5th, lays out why we have a national sewage problem. Decades-long Tory ideology—that the market can solve everything and regulators only add red tape—has ended in disaster for our rivers and the people who live near them.

"In 2019, the Witney constituency was sixth worst of all of England’s 533 constituencies by number of hours of sewage spilled," he writes in an article published in the Witney Gazette on January 19th, 2022.

"Here’s just one local example: for more than a month from late September 2020, Stanton Harcourt sewage treatment works spilled over 28,000 tonnes of untreated sewage. Think what 28,000 tonnes of sewage looks and smells like, and the damage it can do to our environment.

So, we clearly have a big problem. To think our way out of this problem, we also have to understand how we got ourselves into it in the first place. The UK’s water companies were privatised in 1989 into 17 large regional monopolies. We are an outlier with this approach, with England being the only country in the world to have fully privatised its water system. Since 1989, these monopoly water companies have been passed from private equity firm to sovereign wealth fund, all of whom have followed their capitalist instincts, taking out huge dividends and piling on vast volumes of debt.

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Robert Courts Votes for Sewage

We’ve now seen how our MP, Robert Courts, responds when he has an opportunity to crack down on water companies pumping sewage into our rivers. Rather than defending the Windrush, the Evenlode and our other beautiful rivers, he voted with the government on October 20th against forcing water companies to reduce discharges of untreated sewage. Fortunately, even if Robert Courts and other Tory MPs don't stand up for us, Feargal Sharkey, the lead singer of the Undertones, has been doing his part to defend our rivers. Locally, it's important that we support campaigners at WASP—Windrush Against Sewage Pollution—who have been leading the charge and working tirelessly to get our rivers cleaned up. You may even have seen Ash Smith, its founder, on TV, talking about the sewage problem we have here. 


West Oxfordshire Lib Dems demand public meeting with Thames Water's CEO

In the last eight years Thames Water has been fined a total of £28.6 million for pouring more than 2.3 billion litres of raw sewage into Oxford’s stream and rivers.

After 500,000 litres of raw sewage poured into a stream in Oxford killing 3,000 fish in July 2016, Thames Water said it was “deeply sorry”.

Fining Thames Water a record £20.3m, Judge Francis Sheridan said “this is a shocking and disgraceful state of affairs. One has to get the message to shareholders that the environment is to be treasured and protected not poisoned.” He added “what was shocking and disgraceful was…..that it was intentional.”

In November, Oxfordshire Tory MP Robert Courts voted down an amendment to the Environment Bill that sought to stop companies pouring raw sewage into waterways.

He did so on the grounds that “this amendment would have left the public exposed to the costs…of transforming the water system”

Thames Water, a private company, generates annual revenues of around £2bn and is owned by investment companies in the UK, Canada, Abu Dhabi, China and Kuwait. Yet Robert Courts says it is the UK taxpayer who will have to foot the bill of this private company.

At a national and local level the Tories have and are still allowing Thames Water to get away with “a shocking and disgraceful state of affairs” (Judge Francis Sheridan)

West Oxford Lib Dems, along with the national Lib Dem Party, are demanding that Thames Water faces up to its “intentional polluting of our streams and rivers” and takes immediate action to “treasure and protect our environment….not poison it” (Judge Francis Sheridan)

West Oxfordshire Lib Dems are vocal about local and will fight on your behalf to achieve the standard of competence we expect when paying our water rates. We call on Thames Water CEO Sarah Bentley to ‘fix the basics, raise the bar and shape the future’ as she promised at her appointment.

We ask you to sign our petition to demand Sarah Bentley publishes immediately her plans to prevent a further 2.3 billion litres of raw sewage into Oxfordshire’s streams and rivers and attends a public meeting held by West Oxfordshire’s Lib Dems to answer questions from water rate payers.

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