Despite a very busy couple of weeks for me in Westminster with the autumn statement, I have continued to think about the issues worrying all of us in South West Surrey.
This week I am hosting a long-awaited public meeting to discuss sewage overflows into the River Wey and other local streams with Sarah Bentley, CEO of Thames Water, Alan Lovell, chair of the Environment Agency and Katy Taylor, chief customer officer at Southern Water.
With around 2,000 people across South West Surrey signing my petition to Thames Water and Southern Water on this issue, there is understandably a lot of public interest.
I am sure many across the constituency will be familiar with the issue, namely the unacceptable level of sewage pouring into our rivers.
On more than 130 occasions last year, sewage was released into our local waterways for a massive 1,500 hours.
Before becoming chancellor, I contributed to a Westminster Hall debate on this issue.
We actually had nine sewer storm overflows in both Godalming and Grayswood respectively, another 12 in Bramley, 29 in Farnham and a further 76 in Chiddingfold.
Having done the sums, that equates to 24 hours a day of sewage overflows for 65 days in a row.
The government has done a lot on the issue, spending £3 billion to prevent more sewage overspills across the country and committing the water companies to spend more than £50 billion in the next few years.
I would like the fines they are given to be devoted to cleaning up the rivers and am looking into that issue as chancellor.
I also believe we can go further at a local level. This is why my team and I are looking at the best ways to protect our rivers – for example, by designating some of them (where appropriate) as bathing waters.
By doing this, the onus is placed on industry to reduce sewage pollution and to continually monitor the health of our waterways.
I set out an overview of the process in a letter to Waverley Borough Council.
I know there is widespread support for more local inland bathing sites across England and look forward to discussing this more in the coming months with Waverley, who have to initiate the process.
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