There has been outrage after a water industry representative said bills would have to rise to help cut the dumping of raw sewage into rivers such as the Thames.

Chairwoman of trade organisation Water UK, Ruth Kelly apologised on behalf of Thames Water and other companies for releasing sewage, but said charging consumers more was the only sustainable way to pay for improvements to treatment plants, which could take 50-100 years to be repaid.

The Environment Agency's data has shown Thames Water released 507 spillages of sewage into the Thames and its tributaries in West Oxfordshire last year, lasting for 6,362 hours.

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In the East Oxford constituency, 15 sewage spills were recorded, lasting for 164 hours and in the Oxford West and Abingdon constituency 19 counted spills lasted for 73 hours.

A Water UK spokesman said a £10 billion investment package would cut the number of spills by up to 140,000 each year by 2030, compared with the level in 2020.

He said: "investors will put up the money, with the costs then paid back in modest increments each year through bills."

He argued this will protect consumers from "paying the billions needed up front" but acknowledged that the "price impact on bills" would not be known for some time.


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Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran said the £10 billion National Overflows Plan announcement was "too little too late after years of putting public health at risk and large-scale environmental damage".

She said: "It is absolutely outrageous that consumers should be expected to foot the bill for water companies' lacklustre performance.

"The government needs to get serious about standing up to water companies."

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Labour Oxford city councillor Linda Smith said the news that consumers may face higher bills to clean up untreated sewage showed the water companies were out of control.

She said: "The government is failing to ensure they are regulated properly with proper penalties for mismanagement.

"Bill payers should not be left to pick up the tab for years of under investment which have simultaneously provided bumper dividends for water company shareholders."

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The Environment Agency's data has shown that 15 sewage spills lasted for 164 hours in the Oxford East constituency last year, while in the Witney constituency the situation was far worse, with 507 spills lasting for 6,362 hours.

Ruth Smith, a Labour West Oxfordshire district councillor who represents East Witney, said it was time to reject the premise that consumers should face higher bills and instead suggested the public withhold payment of any increased increment in their water bills.

She said: "This will mean companies are compelled to spend some of the money they have pocketed over the years, that should have been built into our communities."

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Charlie Maynard, the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Witney, said "everybody recognised the public has been ripped off for decades by water companies trousering our bills" and he said it was time for water companies to pay for their own upgrades.

Last year, there were 301,091 sewage spills in England, which comes to an average of 824 a day according to Environment Agency figures.

Green city councillor Chris Jarvis said Water UK's apology was the latest evidence that privatisation has been an "unmitigated disaster".

He said: "It's time that we kicked the profiteers out and took our water back into public ownership so it can work for people and not profit."

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A Thames Water spokesman said their shareholders have not taken a dividend for five years so improving service for customers and protecting the environment was prioritised.

Thames Water's spokesman said a £1.6bn plan was recently announced, which sets out sewage treatment works which will take place over the next two years.

He said the public could also use their online map which provides "real time information about storm discharges" from 468 permitted locations and the improvements planned for more than 250 sites.

A Downing Street spokesman said the upgrades should not be disproportionately affecting consumer bills and that companies must put consumers above profits.

He said: "The plans that have been set out today will of course need to go through the correct regulatory approval first to both ensure they deliver on the targets that we've set whilst not disproportionately affecting consumer bills."

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Ed specialises in writing political stories for the Oxford Mail and The Oxford Times

He joined in the team in February 2023, after completing a History undergraduate degree at the University of York and studying for his NCTJ diploma in London.

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