CEREDIGION MP Ben Lake has quizzed environment bosses over the ‘serious failings’ in preventing years of illegal sewage discharge into the river Teifi.

In an exchange before the Welsh Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons, Clare Pillman, Natural Resources Wales’ chief executive, defended the regulator's lack of prosecutions for thousands of days’ worth of illegal sewage discharges in the river Teifi.

Data compiled by mathematician and former UCL professor Peter Hammond confirmed that the river Teifi has suffered a higher level of pollution than any other river in Wales in recent years.

This is the result of a highly inadequate wastewater treatment plant in Cardigan which was recorded to have spilled untreated sewage for a cumulative total of 1,146 days from the start of 2018 to the end of May 2023.

During a meeting of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, Clare Pillman confirmed that NRW has been aware of the Cardigan issue since 2015.

Despite issuing enforcement notices in the years since learning of the problem, the regulator issued no fines or further sanctions.

Teifi Ben Lake
Ben Lake MP questioning Clare Pillman, Natural Resources Wales’ chief executive over sewage spillages on the Teifi (Supplied)

Mr Lake questioned Ms Pillman about the efficacy of the regulatory process, and what actions were expected of Welsh Water.

Ms Pillman’s response stated that a "a number of regulatory actions" had been taken, but that some of Welsh Water’s actions had not worked. When challenged by Mr Lake as to whether the regulatory process could be deemed to have worked when it has taken 10 years for a solution to be implemented in Cardigan after a failure was reported to the regulator, Ms Pillman responded "no".

In a subsequent meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr Lake asked Mr David Black, CEO of Ofwat, to account for the inadequacies of investment plans submitted by water companies to the regulator, and their failure to meet core performance targets.

Mr Black admitted that a number of water companies were failing in this regard, and described their performance to date as “disappointing”.

He also confirmed that Ofwat had open enforcement action against six water companies due to their waste water performance, and action against two companies on their reporting of leakage and per capita consumption targets.

Welsh Water have agreed to undertake investment to address the failure identified at the Cardigan treatment plant, with interim upgrade measures that have brought about some improvement and an investment programme of £20m at the site in 2025 to ensure full compliance with the discharge permit.

Commenting after the committee sessions, Ben Lake MP said: “Many residents of Ceredigion were appalled by revelations on the extent of illegal discharges into the Teifi. Of particular concern is the fact that Natural Resources Wales has been aware of the issues at Cardigan for years, and yet failed to take effective action to bring about a resolution.

“In addition to the risk posed to public health and the substantial environmental damage of such pollution, the level of phosphates in the Teifi has triggered severe planning controls that has effectively brought development in the Teifi valley to a halt for nearly two years.

"The failure to ensure swift action to address deficient infrastructure in this case has therefore had a severe environmental, economic, and social impact on communities in Ceredigion.

“The fact that it will have taken a decade from when NRW were first made aware of these issues in 2015 to Welsh Water investing in a new treatment plant in 2025 is simply not good enough.

"Indeed, this particular example, when considered against a wider context of poor performance by water companies, begs the question of whether the current regulatory regime is fit for purpose, and whether the regulators themselves are up to the task.”