Waves at sea level Thierry Meier

Success for our seas in consultation response

2 minute read

On Monday 25th September 2023, the UK Government released its response to a public consultation on expanding its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan.

All storm overflows in England will now be included in the Plan, including all coastal and estuary sites.

As the main grounds for our recent judicial review of the Plan, this is a huge win – despite our case being dismissed by the High Court two weeks ago.

The recognition of Marine Protected Areas and fragile ocean habitats in the UK Government’s Plan is a huge step forward.

Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas

"The revised Plan, with its goals to limit sewage discharges for all high priority sites by 2045, is an important step to achieve sewage-free seas.

“We hope to see ambitious, progressive action by water companies as a result of this Plan so we can start to see an improvement in water quality and the health of our seas in the near future.”

Sewage free seas court

Credit: Good Law Project

Our legal action against the UK Government’s Plan highlighted the fact that around 600 storm overflows, discharging directly into coastal areas and estuaries, were missing.

Faced with our legal challenge, the Government conceded to consulting on expanding its Plan to cover all coastal and estuarine waters, rather than defending this part of its Plan in court – the UK Government also agreed to pay our legal costs associated with this.

Our research found a staggering 1,651 storm overflows across the UK were discharging within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA). Discharging sewage for a total of 263,654 hours - equivalent to over 30 years - across England in 2021.

As part of the revised Plan, marine protected areas and shellfish water protected areas will be added to a list of ‘high priority sites’ which will see action to reduce sewage discharges on a shorter timescale.

Target three of the Plan: ‘Ensuring storm overflows operate only in unusually heavy rainfall events’, with storm overflows not permitted to discharge above an average of 10 rainfall events per year by 2050, now includes coastal waters and estuaries, something which was crucially missing from the original Plan. The inclusion of these newly added sites means that action to reduce discharges should be achieved for at least 75% of those classed as ‘high priority’, which now includes marine protected areas, by 2035.

We are delighted that, as a result of our legal challenge, the Government has revised its plan to include all coastal waters and estuaries.

Good Law Project’s Legal Director, Emma Dearnaley

Good Law Project’s Legal Director, Emma Dearnaley, this success shows how a legal campaign can make positive change: “The Government has its back to the wall over its handling of the sewage crisis.

“The public care deeply about the filthy state of our rivers and shores and are, understandably, demanding urgent action so that sewage pollution stops.”

Make a donation to support our work

Healthier ocean healthier planet