Here Coffey seemed to accept that bill payers will have to pay “much” of the cost of infrastructure improvements designed to prevent sewage from entering England’s seas and waterways.
Water companies in England last week announced a £10bn plan to reduce wastewater discharges into rivers and seas, while apologizing for the pollution.
But campaigners were outraged that the proposals would mean paying consumers higher bills to pay back the investment.
Therese Coffey, who said she was “quite fed up” with water companies and that the industry was right to apologise, confirmed that “a lot” of private sector investment in the water industry “is paid back through bills”.
But she said fines and fines that the private water companies have to pay could ensure that bill payers are reimbursed.
It comes after Anglian Water said last week that customer bills were likely to rise by £91 a year to pay for the £10bn industrial investment, £12 of which related to storm overflow upgrades.
Storm overflow outlets, of which there are 15,000 in England, currently discharge excess sewage and stormwater when under pressure, to prevent sewers from becoming overloaded and spilling into homes.
Ms Coffey, asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday whether it was correct to say consumers would foot the bill for the improvements, said: “It will be a combination.
“Of course fines and fines are paid by the company, not the bill payer.
“But in terms of overall payments, I think you’re right when you say a lot of this investment is paid back through bills.”
The environment minister said the £10bn announced by the private sector would be used for a £56m global storm spill scheme from the UK government.
She has called on water companies to have an action plan for “any storm flood” on her desk by the end of next month.
There were 301,091 sewage discharges in England in 2022, representing 1.75 million discharge hours, according to figures from the Environment Agency, although they do not include the amount of sewage.
The government’s storm surge mitigation plan published in August 2022 aims to eliminate wastewater landfilling by 2050 and reduce discharges near “high priority” areas by 75% by 2035 and by 2045 by 100% reduction.
Ms Coffey used an interview on the BBC to criticize the track record of other countries in the UK in dealing with sewage leaks.
She told the Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “Honestly, we wouldn’t even know this if it wasn’t for a Conservative government pushing for monitoring and publishing that data.
“We don’t see that in Scotland. And frankly, the frequency of sewage flows is on average much more common in Wales than in England.”
Monitoring stations for Welsh Water, a non-profit organization, show the company discharged wastewater for 602,987 hours in 2022, while government-owned Scottish Water recorded 14,008 discharges in 2022, equating to 113,230 hours.
Northern Ireland is not obliged to provide the same data
She put it to her that the European Environment Agency ranked Britain’s bathing waters as the worst on the continent, and Ms Coffey said that was “not true”.
“We have now rated 92.9% of our bathing waters as good or excellent – that was last summer,” she said.
“That is more than 70% in 2010. There has definitely been investment and work to ensure that our bathing water is getting cleaner and cleaner.”
The Liberal Democrats have called on Ms Coffey to make her own apology for the number of sewage discharges allowed under the supervision of the Tory government.
The party’s environmental spokesman, Tim Farron, said: “The sewage scandal is a damning judgment on the government’s failure to protect our precious rivers and lakes.
“While the water companies have apologized, Therese Coffey still hasn’t.
“She oversees a government that continues to allow water companies to discharge excessive amounts of wastewater into our rivers.”