Campaign background

WATCH: An overview of the Clean River Kent Campaign

A Freedom of Information request by local citizens in spring 2021 showed that Staveley’s current wastewater management system isn’t working, and that United Utilities have failed over 30 years to invest to upgrade the infrastructure.

An ’emergency’ discharge of untreated effluent has occurred 1,000 times in the last 3-year period directly into the river Kent from the Staveley treatment works. That’s an average of nearly once a day. The Kent is the 4th worst river in Cumbria for effluent discharges.

Since 2015, during storms there have been 61 incidents of raw sewage flooding Staveley village putting the health of both residents and visitors at risk every time this happens.

Staveley-with-Ings Parish Council, through its Flood and Sewage Task Group, and Burneside Parish Council are holding both United Utilities (UU) and the Environment Agency (EA) to account for the sewage overspills in Staveley and Burneside when there is heavy and persistent rain.

Without proper investment to upgrade our sewage systems, the community can’t be protected. Moreover, the lack of sewage system capacity is holding back the development of additional homes for local people, as this will add additional pressure to an already failing wastewater management system.

Not only are our local rivers extremely popular with swimmers, paddlers, kayakers and fishermen, but the River Kent is also designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It’s one of the few remaining homes for the UK’s only native, freshwater, white-clawed crayfish which is on the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The Freshwater Biological Association (FBA) and South Cumbria Rivers Trust (SCRT) have funding to undertake important conservation work to protect the freshwater pearl mussel (IUCN listed), which are more endangered than the giant panda!

Our protected waterscape is being trashed, and the sewage spills make flooding incidents even more dangerous for residents. And this isn’t just happening to Staveley and other villages and towns along the River Kent, but to communities right across England.

EA has published a report into raw sewage pollution that was highly critical of the water companies. United Utilities has prioritised shareholder dividends over investment to keep our rivers clean, and our communities safe.

The complex regulatory framework, with responsibilities distributed between Defra, EA and Ofwat, has failed in numerous ways.

At present, Defra shows signs of rowing back from the EU safeguards designed to protect the environment from the ravages of pollution – not only the sewage generated by the water companies, but also the consequence of poorly maintained septic tanks and poor farming practices.

EA has suffered major cuts in funding and has struggled to monitor the permits that are designed to protect inland waterways and coastal waters from pollution. There is also insufficient evidence that they’re working with the water companies and other partners to tackle the complex problems of clean water entering sewers and adding to the volume of sewage that has to be treated at the wastewater treatment plants.

Meanwhile, Ofwat has deliberately focused on keeping water bills low, whilst allowing the water companies to run up eyewatering debts whilst failing to invest in much needed infrastructure.