Environment watchdog boss had £100 dinner with water company lobbyists

The chairman of the environment watchdog met with water company lobbyists for a near-£100 dinner days before proposals for a major bill hike were reported.

Environment Agency chief Alan Lovell accepted a £96 dinner from Water UK, the industry body representing Britain’s water firms.

The dinner, which took place on June 20 last year, came a week before reports suggesting water companies were pushing for a 40% rise in bills to improve the UK’s water infrastructure.

The regulator and water firms were accused of having a “chummy relationship”, by the Liberal Democrats, who revealed the hospitality and gifts received by Mr Lovell in a freedom of information request.

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Tim Farron hit out at the ‘chummy relationship’ between the water companies and government (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The Environment Agency’s role is to investigate and punish water companies found to have illegally polluted waterways.

Lib Dem Environment spokesperson Tim Farron MP said: “This will rightly stink to the public. Government officials shouldn’t be accepting a penny from a disgraced industry which pollutes our rivers whilst hiking bills.”

The Lib Dems also revealed Mr Lovell accepted a £200 dinner and hotel stay from Yorkshire Water, as well as a £60 dinner from Severn Trent Water.

Mr Farron added: “This is a complete mess and further proof of a chummy relationship between water firms and the Government.

“Under this Conservative Government, sewage dumping and water bills have both skyrocketed, hand in hand.

“The water industry is getting away scot-free whilst treating officials and regulators to swanky dinners. It is an absolute scandal.

“This industry is rotten to its core and needs to start from scratch, starting with a new regulator, a ban on bonuses and hospitality gifts and, above all else, a complete reform of water companies so profit is no longer put ahead of the environment.”

The Liberal Democrats have called for a ban on the water industry treating Government and regulators to expensive hospitality.

The party also wants a tough new regulator, and for water firms to be reformed to ensure profit is no longer put above environmental goals.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “All of these meetings were working meetings and all expenses were properly declared, as per the strict rules we have in place on gifts and hospitality.

“It is not unusual for the Environment Agency Chair to meet with industry leads to challenge them on their performance and outline the improvements that we as a regulator expect to see.”