SNP and Tories need to show some concern about sewage crisis affecting beaches, rivers and even schools – Christine Jardine

Sewage overflows into rivers and the sea are making people avoid going into the water

Some metaphors are just too good to resist. So it is at the moment with the sewage crisis which seems to speak volumes about both of our governments with very little need for elucidation.

Raw sewage in bathing water, rivers and, in some cases, seeping into schools just seems to sum up the lack of control and, it often seems, the lack of concern by both the SNP/Greens at Holyrood and the Conservatives at Westminster. Recent research, commissioned by the Liberal Democrats, discovered that just as so many of us have been flooding to the beaches for some holiday respite from the economic gloom, most of us are too scared to let our children or ourselves have a swim.

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Paddling is even too much for some to consider as the research revealed that around 60 per cent of the public are wary of venturing into our seas and rivers. That’s largely because, as the research also uncovered, the sewage monitors at some of the UK’s most popular holiday destinations, beaches which used to be designated ‘clean’, don’t work.

Even when they do work, they can’t tell us how much sewage is being dumped. Only that it is there. “Ah but that is English water companies,” I suspect some protective voices are desperate to claim in this debate. Well, I’m sorry to say that’s not entirely the case.

If you live in parts of Edinburgh, you will be only too aware that sewage is an all-too-frequent problem in both the River Almond and Water of Leith. In 2022, figures released Scottish Water – which is still publicly owned – showed there was a 30 per cent increase in the number of “sewage overflow events”. One of them, in Lanarkshire, lasted 70 days.

And there were so many of these events that you could fill more than 18,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, if for some reason you wanted to. But that may only be the tip of this particularly nasty poo-berg, as only around four in 100 of the 3,614 sewage outfalls in Scotland are monitored. In England, more than 90 per cent are covered, when the monitors are working.

But why is this such a huge problem in one of the world’s richest countries in the 21st century? Why is the only excuse anyone can come up with that we relied on Victorian engineering for too long and now it’s very expensive to replace?

We used to be proud of our water here in Scotland. But then there is so much that we used to be proud of: our education, our ferry services, our hospitals, our roads, our public sector housing. All of them currently drowning in some of those Olympic-sized swimming pools.

It is not good enough. It is time the companies were held to account and changes made. Perhaps a US-style ‘public benefit company’ might work by putting environmental experts on boards and making the public good a guiding principle rather than profit. And surely none of us can be in any doubt that, as we opt not to take a refreshing dip to cool down this summer, we need our governments to step in.

Come on guys. It's time to cut the crap.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West



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