Lincoln MP Karl McCartney has defended his decision to vote against legal duties being placed on water companies in an Environmental Bill amendment, and accused people on social media of spreading “pathetic” and “deliberate misinformation” without knowing the facts.
It comes after a proposal from the Lords to change the Environmental Bill and place harsher legal sanctions on water companies in an attempt to reduce discharges was rejected by MPs last week.
The vote was met with uproar on social media, with many accusing he government of turning a blind eye to companies discharging raw sewage into rivers across the country.
But the government said that safeguards already exist to crack down on sewage discharge from water companies, while some members of parliament said the amendment could have cost up to £600 billion if it was passed.
One of the 265 MPs to vote against the sanctions was Lincoln’s Conservative member Karl McCartney, who has issued a detailed statement to The Lincolnite in response to the online uproar.
Mr McCartney claims that much of what has been posted online is sensationalised and puts “fiction before facts”, stating that the opposition to the amendment has no correlation to the “scaremongering” claims of allowing sewage to be dumped in rivers.
Karl McCartney told The Lincolnite: “Over the past week, a small number of constituents have written to me or in the main put divisive social media posts up about my vote last week on amendment 45 of the Environment Bill.
“There has been a lot of deliberate misinformation on this, especially from those who wish to put fiction before facts on everything that I do. They still cannot accept that I am their Conservative member of parliament, and unlike my predecessors, I always put Lincoln first. It is important to put the record straight.
“I have always supported the new Environment Bill and it is an excellent piece of legislation from the Conservative government. Rather than the misinformation that has been posted about, or sent, to me, it tightens up environmental regulation, not least the Water Industry Act of 1991.
“It is a total nonsense to say I ‘voted to allow raw sewage to pollute our wildlife, our sports fields and our food’, which is what people have actually posted on social media over the last few days. If only they looked at the facts for themselves rather than idly retweet what they have been sent.
“Given how much I care about the environment, as I have always supported the need to ensure the River Witham and Brayford Pool are cleaner, alongside my concern for animal welfare, this deliberate political scaremongering by those who created the recent campaign is pathetic.
“The Environmental Bill has many strengths and continues to make rapid progress through Parliament. It will instigate real change and leave a lasting legacy.
“Amongst other things, it places a new duty on the UK government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from overflows by September 2022, a new duty on water companies and the Environmental Agency to publish data on storm overflow operations on an annual basis and a further duty on government to produce a report on what is needed to eliminate storm overflow in England, and the costs and benefits of such action.
“It places an obligation on water companies to publish information (within one hour) of the commencement of an overflow, its location and when it ceases, a further duty on water companies to continuously monitor water quality upstream and downstream.
“It also mandates water companies to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans setting out how the company will manage and develop its drainage and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning horizon.
“The statutory intent here could not be clearer and none of these measures are indicative of any plan to pump raw sewage into rivers!”
The Lincoln MP goes into more detail about his reasons behind the vote, as he continues: “In respect of amendment 45 from the House of Lords, this is slightly more complex, but I am happy to explain my logic if readers will bear with me.
“Contrary to perception, the House of Commons actually adopted most of its recommendations, albeit with the exception of lines 7 to 14 on storm overflows.
“The reason is that this would have effectively set a specific timeline for infrastructure works which would have been well beyond the ability of the government, Environment Agency and water companies to implement.
“Current cost estimates on the elimination of storm sewerage overflows range from between £150 billion to £660 billion so it would have been utterly irresponsible to mandate a fixed timeline of work and against unknown cost estimates, without understanding the full impact of doing so.
“Had this amendment not been voted down, then much of the cost of delivering this work would have fallen immediately upon Lincoln’s taxpayers and placed an unacceptable legal and financial burden on already stretched families in the constituency I have the honour and privilege to represent.
“Like most of my colleagues, I was not willing to write a blank cheque for this against an impossible timeline and it would have been irresponsible to do so, hence I voted the way I did.
“I was also not prepared to ignore the serious financial consequences for the consumer. The simple fact here is that the government is already tabling the most progressive, ambitious and environmentally friendly legislation of a generation and the bill is taking serious steps to address the harm caused by storm overflows.
“As it stands, water companies are already investing £7.1 billion on environmental improvements across England between 2020-25, of which £3.1 billion will be invested directly into storm overflow improvements.
“Once the government’s water quality enquiry is published in 2022, the water regulator OFWAT will be further incentivised to significantly reduce the frequency and volume of sewage discharges from storm overflows, to the point where it will be mandated in law.”
Mr McCartney rounded off his statement by speaking about his keen interest in protecting the environment as well as doing what is best for the people he represents.
“I hope this information is useful and reassures you that effective action is being taken to address storm overflows.
“As the MP for Lincoln, I am well used to misrepresentation in the local press and on social media but on this, it was important for me to address the clear lack of context in this case and to underscore the wider merits of the Environment Bill.
“As someone who loves the environment, and the beautiful city I first began to represent in May 2010, I hope that this statement makes clear my desire to protect our rivers, waterways, lakes and coastline.”