Recently the government announced funding to clean up our water network and improve our antiquated Victorian infrastructure – which carries most of our rainwater and wastewater across Mansfield and the rest of the country. This is the first time a government of any colour has tried to tackle this in a century.
I was pleased to see this investment of £1.6 billion nationally, part of a larger pot of funding which will go some way to improve and restore our more than 100-year-old network of underground pipes and address the issue of storm overflows.
As if to emphasise the point a few weeks ago a sinkhole appeared on Violet Hill, leading to mass disruption for our town on an arterial road that lasted over two weeks. Though it perhaps looked like just a small thing on the surface, in reality this sinkhole required a large co-ordinated response from Severn Trent to excavate some 4 metres into the ground to repair the damaged pipework underneath.
There’s an almost endless list of things that need addressing when it comes to our waterworks, so I’m pleased to finally see a government taking action with their Plan for Water.
It’s not just sinkholes that are a direct result of having this 100+ year old water and sewage infrastructure, but also things that have caught a lot of national attention over the last year.
We must ensure water companies put a stop to the practice of frequently using storm overflows to pump raw sewage into our rivers and coastal waters. This isn’t new (though you wouldn’t believe it from some of the reporting). These overflows have been happening since forever; ever since our Victorian infrastructure was first installed. So it’s good news that we’re going to begin to tackle it.
There’s a long term plan, as can’t be at the expense of the equally disgusting reality that immediately banning storm overflows would have, like having sewage back up into people’s homes through bathroom and kitchen drains because it simply has nowhere else to go. It needs to be managed and funded sensibly. Labour’s suggestion that they can entirely stop this by 2030 would cost some £600 billion, so it’s just not realistic.
Every water company is currently under a lot of scrutiny for frequently and potentially habitually using overflows, with fines into the hundreds of millions which are reinvested by government into improving our waterways. (Though actually our local one, Severn Trent, is really pretty good at managing this and has good reputation). These practices do need to be stopped through rational, sensible, long-term interventions that keep our water system functioning, and protect our environment.
The government over the next 25 years will invest £56 billion across our network to put a stop to the use of storm overflows and renew our Victorian infrastructure in a sensible and sustainable way that won’t pass on hundreds of pounds of costs to customers through water bills.
People are right to be frustrated by our ancient system but I’m confident that the government – the first ever to try to tackle this - are taking responsible, costed and ethical actions that will both protect our environment and continue to deliver a functioning water network for consumers.