THE figures for the number of sewage spills into rivers last year are shocking and unacceptable.

The number of hours that sewage spilled in the Northumbrian Water area nearly tripled last year, rising from 107,536 hours to 280,029, and more than doubled in the Yorkshire Water area, from 232,054 to 516,386.

According to the Rivers Trust, there is not a river in the country that is healthy. From the Swale to Saltburn, we’ve seen the effects of sewage spillage, and yesterday’s figures show the lower Tyne was the sixth most affected river in the country, with 66 spills per mile.

The water industry does have excuses. Last year was the sixth wettest in England since 1836 and Britain is the only country which monitors all of its outflows to see what is going on.

They are just excuses for an industry that is failing. These private companies – Northumbrian is owned by institutions in Hong Kong and New York – are overseen by hugely bonused executives but have no competition and their regulators are clearly not holding their feet to the raw sewage.

The spills are only meant to happen in “exceptional circumstances” but the figures show they are common place and regular.

The industry is now investing record amounts to cut spills by 40 per cent by 2030, but the wave of public disgust suggests this is not enough. The performance of the Environment Agency in policing the companies is already under review, but this will still be an election issue.

It goes beyond the companies themselves, because there are understandable calls to ban wet wipes, which cause blockages, and our planning system has to become realistic – developers are making money by overloading the existing sewers.

All in all, this is a show which is preceded by another word beginning in “sh”, and we hope that the public revulsion gives the politicians, in election year, the will to make the industry clean up its act and its overflows.