Press release

All storm overflows now covered by plan to clean up waterways

Government expands plan to tackle storm overflows, including all coastal and estuary sites .

This was published under the 2022 to 2024 Sunak Conservative government
  • Government expands plan to tackle storm overflows, including all coastal and estuary sites
  • Marine protected areas and shellfish water protected areas made a priority
  • Plan to drive £60 billion capital investment over next 25 years - the largest infrastructure programme in water company history.

Action to tackle sewage pollution and clean up our waterways has been expanded, Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey has confirmed today (Monday 25 September).  All coastal and estuary storm overflows are now included in the largest infrastructure programme in water company history.

The updated Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan sets out stringent targets to protect people and the environment; and prioritises for early action areas used for bathing, for growing shellfish or with high ecological importance.

The additions to the Plan will also mean that Marine Protected Areas and shellfish water protected areas will also be added to the ‘high priority sites’ list, alongside Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and bathing waters.

The expanded plan will result in an estimated increase in capital investment in the water system of £60 billion to tackle storm overflows, up from the £56 billion announced in 2022.

This is part of continued action announced in the Plan for Water, which sets out government’s strategy to hold water companies to account and manage the pressures on our water resources through more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said:

As a coastal MP, I am determined to address the damage sewage discharges have on our coastlines.

Water companies must clean up their act and our Plan means no overflow will be left behind in our efforts to clean up our waterways.

Through more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement of the water sector we will tackle pollution from every storm overflow in the country.

The expansion comes after a recent High Court ruling in favour of the government’s Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan. The government won on all claims considered by the High Court, meaning the plans were considered lawful. The ruling also outlined that the government’s plan goes ‘substantially’ further than the law to drive a reduction in storm overflow discharges. We are expanding the Plan further still.

As part of robust government action, the targets set out in the Plan will now apply to every storm overflow in England – an increase from 91% coverage to 100%. The targets include requirements for water companies to:

  • Improve 100% of storm overflows discharging into or near every designated bathing water; and improve 75% of overflows discharging to high priority sites by 2035
  • Improve all remaining storm overflows, regardless of location, by 2050.

These plans strike the right balance between the need for investment and the impact on consumers. Under this Plan, there will be no changes to bills until 2025. Eliminating all discharges – as has been called for by some - could cost between £120 billion and £600 billion, increasing annual water bills by between £271 and £817 by 2049.

Storm overflows are a feature of combined sewerage systems, designed to prevent sewage backing up into properties and stop mains pipes bursting. There are strict permit conditions for when and how they should be used to protect our environment. Today’s announcement follows a six week public consultation earlier this year.

Updates to this page

Published 25 September 2023