Council to ramp up pressure on Thames Water


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Swimmers and kayakers staging a ‘floating protest’ on the Thames in Oxford against Thames Water pumping sewage into the river. Picture: Richard Cave

WATER flowing through the Thames in Oxford should be fit enough to bathe in.

That is the view of Oxford City Council, which agreed this week that strong action us needed to clean up the Thames and the Cherwell in the city.

The council does not have direct power over this, but is now going to lobby for more funding for the Environment Agency, press Thames Water to upgrade its sewage plants, and create a plan to make a stretch of the river fit for bathing.

Councillors unanimously agreed on the plan on Monday, and time and again emphasised that Port Meadow and other riverside areas were important for wellbeing.

Linda Smith, the Labour councillor who tabled the debate on Monday night, said it was important to ‘keep up the pressure’ on authorities with power over waterways to invest in better sewage works.

Councillors taking part in the debate heard sewage works spilled untreated liquid waste into the upper Thames for more than 17,000 hours during 2019.

This was all entirely legal for water company Thames Water to do, as it happened when the firm said that its sewage works were ‘overwhelmed’ by flooding.

« There are canoes, paddleboards and I even saw a giant inflatable flamingo with six full-grown individuals and several tins of beer floating down the river at Port Meadow during summer. »

She added that is was ‘disgusting’ rivers could also be used as open sewers at the same time.

While the council plans to call for more investment in sewage treatment, it is also calling on Thames Water to give prior notice for when it thinks it will need to dump waste into the river, so swimmers know when to avoid it.

Green councillor Dick Wolff said it was ‘shocking that the people of Oxford did not know what was happening in their rivers’.

The Lib Dems’ leader Andrew Gant said rivers had been a ‘wonderful resource for recreation’ during lockdown and needed to be protected.

A member of the public, Claire Robertson, also spoke in favour of the plans, comparing it to a campaign to clean up the UK’s beaches in the 1990s.

Last month, Oxfordshire County Council similarly made calls for cleaner rivers across the UK, following sewage pollution in the River Windrush near Witney, which is a tributary of the Thames.

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