THE Liberal Democrat General Election candidate for Romsey and Southampton North is calling for new protected status for local rivers, including the Test.

Geoff Cooper made the comments after figures revealed that sewage was dumped 697 times into Romsey and Southampton North waterways last year. 

Analysis of the official data from the Environment Agency by the Lib Dems shows there were 12,183 hours of sewage discharges.

In an effort to tackle sewage dumping, the Lib Dems have announced a massive expansion of marine protected areas and a new Blue Flag status for rivers will be included in the party’s General Election manifesto. The introduction of Blue Flag status would set legally binding targets to prevent sewage dumping in those sites, giving special protected status for swimmers and wildlife. 

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Nationally the party recently announced plans to abolish Ofwat, introducing a new regulator with greater powers, which follows its plans for a ban on water company executive bonuses.

Mr Cooper said: “Hampshire's coastlines and precious rivers, including possibly the finest chalk river in the world, the River Test have been severely compromised after years of this Conservative government letting water firms get away with environmental vandalism. Ofwat has failed in its duty to sufficiently regulate the industry and the Environment Agency has been left underfunded by a government that is not prioritising the protection of our water supply or our environment. 

“Conservative MPs have stood by whilst swimmers have become ill and wildlife killed by sewage discharges. This scandal has to end now. 

“The Liberal Democrats will have the boldest manifesto on cleaning up our rivers and coastlines. Families should be free to swim safely in the knowledge that our waters are not polluted with sewage.”

Conservative candidate Caroline Nokes said: "We have already put in place legislation not only for unlimited fines on water companies - but also that fines levied must be spent remediating damage caused by pollution incidents. But of course there is more to be done - I've consistently worked in Parliament, backing legislation (including Private Members Bills) to make holding the water companies to account easier. I've secured specific urgent questions and debates and have a proven track record of tackling Southern Water on their failures. 

"It's been great to see the work done in the north of the constituency to prevent the ingress of surface water into the sewers. But it's not just drainage that's the problem Southern Water has failed on drinking water too, and many will remember me personally delivering water during the outages last year and the year before."

The confirmed candidates for Romsey and Southampton North are: Geoff Cooper (Liberal Democrat), Sahrae Cunio (Workers Party), Christie Lambert (Labour), Caroline Nokes (Conservative), Connor Shaw (Green) and Paul Barrett (Reform UK).