Decades ago, when package holidays took off and many Brits who’d been used to spending their Summer breaks at clean and litter-free resorts around our shores travelled overseas for the first time, foreign beaches in hotter climes quickly gained a reputation for being a bit smelly and people would joke about the need to avoid the sewage floating around in the seas and in some cases running down streets. Whether this was generally deserved – perhaps because of resorts being built quickly to accommodate the influx of tourists - or just the British sense of humour, I’ll never know, but when, as a discerning teenager, I took a European holiday to a popular island, there were indeed issues of concern. Over the years standards have been raised dramatically and now it’s the British Isles that have to clean up! According to Environment Agency figures, raw sewage was dumped into English rivers 824 times a day in 2022 and there were 301,091 sewage spills, polluting everything in their path as they made their way to the coastline. And with most of the country suffering from drought for long periods, the excuse by water companies that they had to discharge sewage into waterways when drains were overwhelmed, just doesn’t wash, does it? I know this was around a fifth less than in 2021, but it’s still shameful, (as is the litter that so many folk think it’s OK to leave behind them after their day on the beach!).
Although the Government’s recent ‘Plan for Water’ ( https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-plan-for-water
) says many of the right things, experience has taught me that often, it turns out to be just talk. I think this could all be about to change though with the appointment of long-term environmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey OBE - you may recall him from '80s band The Undertones, or his hit single ‘A Good Heart’ - as chairman of England and Wales’ water regulator, Ofwat. Having followed keen fisherman Feargal on Twitter for some time, I’m well aware that he’s incensed at the way water companies have ignored their responsibilities and I can’t think of a better person to take them to task. As he told River Action UK: “It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. This is the perfect opportunity to flip this dysfunctional system on its head and turn it into a regulator that actually regulates. I would be a fool not to accept.”
Perhaps we should always look to appoint a past adversary to lead up these failing bodies. They know all about what’s wrong and have long held ideas on how to put things right – and a real passion to do so, too. I’m going to watch this one with interest…