The Effluent in the Room

As a community activist having spent many years on Redcar beach clearing up rubble and detritus to support our local economy and tourism, I am incredibly angry and saddened at what I’ve seen this weekend regarding the release of sewage up and down the country.

I think of all the extraordinary groups like Surfers Against Sewage, Marine Conservation Society, Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, Friends of Redcar, South Gare Litter Pickers, Marske Litter Action, Saltburn Sea Swimmers, Good Vibes Only, Cold Water and Meditation Group, Walk N Talk, Keep It Clean at Saltburn & many more. Plus many councillors at Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council and all the residents and local businesses who have volunteered and worked so hard for years both physically on the seafronts and behind the scenes, lobbying for action to achieve excellence on our coastlines.

We are all watching this, along with the crustacean deaths and dredging up pyridine toxic soils that have been undisturbed for many decades. Many like myself are flabbergasted that this government have found themselves voting to allow water companies to do this because they “have no choice”.


All the great beach clean work of volunteers now being undone because incompetent, lazy and morally bankrupt Tory MPs have not regulated utility companies effectively, allowing a culture for business owners to hollow out profits on exec wages, bonuses and shareholders.

And all this happens despite the fact these businesses have huge debts and are unproductive. Instead of making the necessary repairs and upgrades to the Victorian systems, they are filling our waterways with excrement and filling their greedy pockets with bill payers money.


It is the inaction of the Tory Government to prevent our utilities being financially engineered by profiteers, that is the real problem. Tory MPs are citing that they have no choice other than to allow this polluting to happen and those who are contesting them doing so, do not (or do not want to) understand.

What we understand is that for years the Tories have known the problems, they have been lobbied many times over to act, but have done nothing worthwhile to hold these businesses to account. Instead they held back on releasing the new Environment Act until 2021 and allowed these privately owned businesses to syphon out income despite their huge debts.

In 2021 the average wage for water and sewage company Chief execs in England was nearly £1.7m which was a 27% increase. More than £15million went on pay and bonuses. At the same time the number of times raw sewage was pumped into our seas and rivers rose by 37%. Much of the dumping is also unmonitored which means the percentage is actually going to be a lot higher.

As an example of one of these companies (and because they serve us), Northumbrian Water serves 2.7million people in the North East and has huge debts.

It is owned by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing who pays the CEO, Heidi Bottram £648,000. The CEO of Northumbrian Water, also made £953,000 in 2018 alone – an increase of 83% from 2013. Over 6 years she received more than £5.5million in salary, bonuses, pensions and other benefits.

This company also paid out £91.7million in dividends, according to the latest accounts. A huge pay day for the owner, Li Ka-shing’s holdings.

So you might think, well that’s ok, that’s how capitalism works, why shouldn’t they reap the rewards of running these businesses? These dividends and bonuses were paid out despite the huge debts Northumbrian have racked up. They made £167million in losses last year and are in debt to the tune of £3.17 billion. Where is the regulation to prevent this?

The water provider hiked up customer bills in the North East by 10.8% last year to an average £365. These bills are set to increase without the improvements needed to prevent these discharges.

The Tories have sat by for over a decade, ignored the campaigners and urgency and have simple allowed this to happen, up and down the country. They have turned a blind eye to profiteering with the lack of reinvestment in our services. Instead of seeing massive infrastructure improvements, we are seeing massive payouts.

And then they have the audacity to say they have had no choice other than to dump raw sewage all over our hard work! Work carried out but decent folk to improve local visitor trade and economic fortunes of our businesses and to make good our bathing waters, rivers and sea for our families to enjoy.

We are once again being dubbed the “Dirty Man of Europe” a charge that was pre warned with Brexit and the removal of common standards. The next general election cannot come soon enough. We have to rework all of this, get control back and make our waters clean and safe to swim in again. We have to hold these businesses to account and invest in our broken infrastructure. For the sake of our health, for our marine life and for our economy.


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