It just doesn’t stop

Because no matter who we are or where we come from, we’re all entitled to the basic human rights of clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy land to call home.

Dr Crane must be spinning in his grave. It was the eminent Georgian physician who, along with his equally esteemed colleague Dr Russell, first discovered the health benefits of sea bathing. The rise in popularity of resorts such as Scarborough, Margate, Whitstable, Llandudno, Brighton, favoured by Dr Russell, and Weymouth, the choice of Dr Crane. In fact, the latter was so enamoured of the purity of the sea in Weymouth Bay that he described it thus The water of this fine Bay is quite pure, of a beautiful colour, and perfectly clear and transparent.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Actually, don’t. I may have said a lot of this before but it bears repeating. Last weekend, one of the hottest of the year thus far,  the beaches round Whitstable were rendered unusable because of the amount of raw sewage that had been umped into them. Over the same weekend a huge protest was held at Lake Windermere, the UK’s largest inland body of water and part of the lifeblood of the Lake District, about the amount of sewage that has been ruining the quality of the lake for years.

A beach at Clacton-on-Sea in Essex has been deemed unsafe to swim in for four years in a row and has now lost its bathing status. This morning it was revealed that the River Wye in Herefordshire, once one of our most diverse has lost ecological status downgraded as sewage turns water into ‘pea soup’.

Thirty years ago, the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sold off the nation’s water companies, creating, a series of privatised monopolies. I have no choice over who supplies the water to my house, nor who deals with the aftermath of all that water. There is no competition for water services. There’s no handy Octopus Water Services that I can switch my supply to. I am lumbered with South East Water, in the same way that my friend in Norfolk is beholden to Anglian Water. The ideology behind the sell-off was that private companies would run the businesses more efficiently than public ones. More efficiently for the shareholders and the chief executives certainly.

Why else would the ultimate owners of our water companies be private equity funds, hedge funds and foreign pension companies? Because they know there are massive profits and huge dividends to be had. And if they get too much bad publicity and public flack? They can just sell-off parts or hide them behind umbrella and holding companies. Check out this thread on Twitter, for example. From a  local councillor in Berkshire, it’s is fascinating, showing, as it does, the convoluted ownership structures.

I’ve said it before, our rivers, lakes and seas deserve better than this. We deserve better than this.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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