Robert Courts MP is under fire for voting down an amendment to the Environment Bill that sought to stop companies pumping raw sewage into waterways.

The amendment, which was first put forward by the Duke of Wellington in the House of Lords, proposed forcing large companies, such as Thames Water, to ‘take all reasonable steps’ to avoid sewage overflowing into rivers.

Most Conservative MPs including Mr Courts voted against the amendment and it was voted down by 268 votes to 204.

READ MORE: How Oxfordshire MPs voted on dumping sewage in rivers

Oxford Mail: Witney untreated sewage outfall which dumped 1563 hours worth into the Colwell Brook and Windrush in 2020Witney untreated sewage outfall which dumped 1563 hours worth into the Colwell Brook and Windrush in 2020

Thames Water’s own figures record that in 2019 its treatment plant at Witney pumped raw sewage into the Colwell Brook and Windrush for a total of 1,395 hours.

The latest figures for 2020 show a rise from that to 1,563 hours into the river that eventually passes by Ducklington Lake.

REVEALED: All of the rivers in Oxfordshire where sewage has been dumped

Campaigners Witney Against Sewage Pollution (WASP) estimated it was the equivalent of at least nearly two months of continuous flow, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Witney MP Robert Courts posted an explainer on his website.

He said the main reason it was not accepted was because it came with no plan and no impact assessment of how it could be implemented.

READ MORE: Swimmers furious MPs vote on dumping sewage in rivers

Mr Courts said while he supported the principle “we are talking about transforming a system which has operated since the Victorian Era, the preliminary cost of which is estimated to be anywhere between £150 billion and £650 billion, which is more than has been spent combatting the Coronavirus pandemic.

“This amendment would have left the public exposed to these costs and would have been the equivalent of signing a blank check on behalf of billpayers.”

Ashley Smith of WASP said: “Scaring the public with ridiculously huge and unexplained estimates between £150 billion and £650 billion and implying that it is now the taxpayer’s job to bail out private water companies is a very underhand tactic and one that does not stand up to scrutiny.

“Of course fixing this problem must cost money but that should come from investors and it needs to come fast, not at the lamentably slow rate that the Environment Bill will create in its present form.

“We have perfectly adequate law right now and it is only Government policy and under resourcing of the regulator that is making it fail to protect us.”

Mr Courts said he did, however, support a plan to reduce storm overflows.

He said: "I was pleased to support new clauses to the Bill which place a range of new legal duties on Government and water companies. These include a duty on Government to produce a plan to reduce storm overflows and a separate report on eliminating them entirely.”

Oxford Mail: MP Robert Courts (centre) with Ashley Smith from Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (left). Picture taken in August 2019MP Robert Courts (centre) with Ashley Smith from Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (left). Picture taken in August 2019

“Also new legal duties on water companies to monitor and publish data on storm overflow and water quality in real time, and to publish drainage and sewerage plans showing how they will stop storm overflows.”

Mr Smith said: “By voting with the Government, Mr Courts has voted to remove the only aspect of the Bill that would have seen an end to sewage pollution and what he has voted for is no more than window dressing that will simply perpetuate it.”

But he added he hoped that the public reaction “and possibly some exposure to the true facts may sway enough MPs to vote for clean rivers and seas and to end sewage pollution”.

Peers are expected to re-insert the measures before it goes back to the House of Commons later this week.