Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer slams Michael Gove’s plans to make sewage pollution worse

Carla Denyer interviewed n the banks of the Truro River. Photo by Tilly Green

On a visit to Cornwall at the weekend, the Green Party’s co-leader Carla Denyer slammed Michael Gove’s plan to tear up the rules preventing water pollution by property developers.

Speaking alongside Green Party Truro City councillors beside the Truro River, opposite the Newham Road pumping station that dumped untreated sewage into the river 28 times in 2022, Carla said:

“Cornwall’s rivers and beaches have seen some of the worst sewage pollution in the whole of the UK – a massive problem for local people, for Cornwall’s reputation as a holiday destination and for local businesses such as the shellfisheries of the Carrick Roads.

“It’s outrageous that the government is proposing to waive rules designed to protect the environment as a favour for their property developer mates. It’s giving these developers a licence to pollute, and to describe this as a ‘Brexit bonus’ adds insult to injury.”

‘Nutrient neutrality’ rules are set by Natural England, in line with EU environmental standards, and are designed to make sure that housing developments don’t increase the amount of phosphates and nitrates in sewage and run-off to dangerous levels in wetlands and waterways.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove announced last week that the government plans to change this from a legal requirement to mere ‘guidance’, which councils can choose to ignore when signing off new housing projects.

After visiting Truro, Carla met up with Green Party councillors in Newquay, where three local beaches – Crantock, Mawgan Porth and Harlyn Bay – have been hit with sewage pollution just in the past few days.

Carla said:

“Talking with local Green councillors in Cornwall has left me in no doubt about the scale of the housing crisis here, with local people priced out of the market in almost every part of Cornwall. But to pretend that this is because water pollution rules are too tough is beyond ridiculous.

“The nutrient neutrality rules are the same across the whole of Europe. This has not stopped many other European countries creating far more housing than has happened in the UK in recent years.

“The problem is that developers are building the wrong type of homes, often in the wrong places, in order to maximise their profits, and are often failing to provide even the affordable housing that they promise when development applications are allowed.

“What Cornwall and many other parts of the UK need is more affordable homes, including homes for social rent, built to high energy efficiency standards so that they’re affordable to run too. We absolutely don’t need to see more shoddily built and environmentally damaging houses that are out of reach of local people.

“The Green Party also wants to see much tougher action on sewage pollution by the water companies, such as South West Water, which have failed to invest in the infrastructure needed to clean up their disgusting pollution of our waterways and beaches.”

Last year. Cornwall suffered more raw sewage spills than anywhere else in the UK – more than 11,000, with discharges that went on for nearly 80,000 hours. Yet in June this year Pennon Group, which owns South West Water, raised its shareholder dividend by 10.9% to £112 million.

In September last year, Green Party town councillor Drew Creek brought a motion that was passed by the Newquay Town Council to declare a water emergency and demand that Cornwall Council, Conservative MP Steve Double and the government hold the South West Water account for their frequent dumping of sewage into the sea.

Since then Green councillors in Newquay have worked constructively with South West Water to raise public awareness of what not to put down toilets and drains (such as wet wipes) in order to avoid blockages that can contribute to the system being overwhelmed, and of the benefits of getting a water butt to help slow the flow of water into the sewers.

But as Councillor Drew Creek said:

“Ultimately this is a problem of long-term underinvestment by the privatised water companies. Over the years, huge amounts of money that should have been spent on improving sewage infrastructure have been paid out to private shareholders as dividends.”

Carla Denyer said:

“This profiting from pollution has to stop, and ultimately the Green Party would like to see these companies brought back into public ownership and run for the common good rather than for private profit.”

Photo by Tom Scott

In 2021, the Financial Times reported that a quarter of donations to the Conservative Party in the previous two years – £18 million in all – had been from donors with property interests. The share prices of major property developers, including Barratt Developments, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey, all surged in the wake of Michael Gove’s announcement on ditching pollution rules.

Many environmental organisations have strongly criticised the government’s plan to scrap the rules around water pollution and housing development, and the government’s own Office for Environmental Protection has said it “will reduce the level of environmental protection provided for in law and amount to a regression”.

On Twitter, the Wildlife Trusts commented:

“Nutrient neutrality helps protect our most vulnerable rivers, streams and lakes from damaging pollution. Without it, we can wave goodbye to saving our struggling rivers and wildlife that need them most.”

Photo by Tilly Green

Before leaving Cornwall, Carla Denyer had time to take a quick dip on Towan Beach in Newquay with local councillors – but made sure to check the Surfers Against Sewage app first.