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Protesters raised a stink outside Anglian Water’s headquarters

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Activists from Cambridge gathered outside the headquarters of Anglian Water on a business park outside Huntingdon to protest the many thousands of times each year that the company releases raw sewage into rivers it is responsible for.

Anglian Water deposition on April 22
Anglian Water deposition on April 22

The dumping of raw sewage into rivers has become a national and local scandal. Anglian Water is currently being investigated by the regulator Ofwat after analysis of initial reports submitted in December found its sewage treatment works may not be meeting environmental requirements. This, combined with over-abstraction of water from the chalk stream in the region to the south of Cambridge, resulted in groups including Friends of the Cam, Little Blue Dot and Save Honey Hill arriving at the water company’s premises at Lancaster House on Ermine Business Park.

In 2021, Anglian Water spilled untreated sewage into rivers and streams 21,351 times. The Environment Agency also found that in every year since 2015, Anglian Water’s Cambridge waste-water treatment plant exceeded the amount of treated sewage it is ‘permitted’ to release into the Cam.

Save Honey Hill, Little Blue Dot and Friends of the Cam sewage activists at Anglian Water
Save Honey Hill, Little Blue Dot and Friends of the Cam sewage activists at Anglian Water

A spokesperson for the protesters said: “Anglian Water is destroying the River Cam and its tributaries, the life that depends on them, and the safety of bathers and other river users through regular release of raw sewage.”

Protesters on April 22 took their places inside giant emoji poos alongside a large ‘greenwashing’ cloak which the group used “to draw attention to Anglian Water’s attempts to claim green credentials by co-leading the water theme at the COP26 resilience hub, while engaging in sewage dumping”.

The spokesperson for the group said: “This has become a national scandal, with the Environment Agency acknowledging that so-called ‘permitted’ sewage releases are regularly exceeded. Anglian Water feign concern now that the spotlight is on them, but they could have used money given in high executive pay, bonuses, and dividends to shareholders to finance the upgrading of infrastructure to prevent sewage overflows during rainfall.”

An Anglian Water spokesperson said: “Combined storm overflows were originally designed to protect homes and businesses from flooding. However, we agree that they are no longer an appropriate way of dealing with overloaded sewers – we need to do more.

“We are already investing more than £200m to reduce storm spills between now and 2025, in places where it will have the most benefit to the environment.

Sewage activists make their point outside Anglian Water’s HQ
Sewage activists make their point outside Anglian Water’s HQ

“Not only this but we have recently launched our Get River Positive pledges which mean that we’re committed to ensuring storm overflows and sewage treatment works will not be the reason for unhealthy rivers by the end of the decade.”

However, the Cambridge protesters remain dissatisfied with the “limited remit and glacial pace” involved, noting: “The cost of improving the sewage system to prevent dumping raw sewage into the sea and rivers is probably considerably less than the amount – £57bn – paid in dividends to shareholders of water companies in the three decades since privatisation.”

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