Lib Dems pledge protections for coastlines to end ‘environmental vandalism’

The Liberal Democrats have called for new protections for rivers and coastlines to end “environmental vandalism”.

The party have announced an expansion of marine protected areas and a new Blue Flag status for rivers will be included in their General Election manifesto.

In response to sewage being pumped into bathing water status rivers, the Lib Dems have outlined plans for new Blue Flag rivers, setting legally binding targets to prevent sewage dumping in those sites.

SAS Paddle-Out Protest
Swimmers at Shepperton Open Water Swim, a swimming spot at Ferris Meadow Lake in Surrey (Elena Giuliano/PA)

Blue Flag rivers would give special protected status for swimmers and wildlife.

The party claims the current Government bathing water scheme is “toothless” and has failed to protect waterways from sewage discharges by only requiring increased water quality testing.

Lib Dem Leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Our precious rivers and coastlines have been destroyed after years of a Conservative Government letting water firms get away with environmental vandalism.

“It is time we got tough on polluting and profiteering water firms. Conservative MPs have stood by whilst swimmers have become ill and wildlife killed by sewage discharges.

“This scandal has to end now. The Conservative Government introduced a toothless scheme which has not protected swimmers and wildlife.

“The Liberal Democrats will have the boldest manifesto on cleaning up our rivers and coastlines. Families should be free to swim safely in the knowledge that our waters are not polluted with sewage.”

General Election campaign 2024
Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey (right) paddleboarding with local MP Tim Farron and his daughter Gracie on Lake Windermere (Peter Byrne/PA)

Data from the Environment Agency for 2023 shows a 54% increase in the number of sewage spills compared to 2022, and a 13% increase compared to 2020.

The Lib Dems are also announcing new plans to protect coastal marine wildlife, which would see the expansion of the blue belt of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to cover at least 50% of the UK territorial waters by 2030.

The new target on MPAs would be achieved by working in partnership with UK Overseas Territories, as well as mandating the government to monitor the sites, to alleviate what the Lib Dems call “a state of crisis due to sewage and plastic pollution” in marine areas.

The latest announcement on water quality follows the party previously expressing their desire to abolish Ofwat and introduce a new regulator with greater powers, as well as banning bonuses for water company executives.

The Environment Agency notes that heavy rainfall does not affect water companies’ responsibility to manage storm overflows in line with legal requirements.