"We are sorry." That is the message from water companies which have pumped sewage into waterways around north Norfolk and across the country.

Privately-owned water companies have vowed to spend £10bn by 2030 to cut the number of sewage overflows by up to 140,000 each year – promising the biggest modernisation of the nation’s sewer systems since the Victorian era.

However, the multibillion-pound downpayment which Water UK has asked for from water company shareholders for the works is likely to mean a rise in customers’ bills.

Ruth Kelly, chairman of industry regulator Water UK, said on behalf of water companies including Anglian Water: “More should have been done to address the issue of spillages sooner and the public is right to be upset about the current quality of our rivers and beaches".

There was a total of 301,091 sewage spills in 2022, an average of 824 a day, according to Environment Agency figures.

The industry paid out £1.4bn to shareholders last year.

READ MORE: Norfolk County Council in pledge over sewage discharges

North Norfolk News:

Ms Kelly said: “We have listened and have an unprecedented plan to start to put it right.

“This problem cannot be fixed overnight, but we are determined to do everything we can to transform our rivers and seas in the way we all want to see.”

READ MORE: Anglian Water bosses say Norfolk sewage spills will continue

North Norfolk News: Sewage overflows in north Norfolk

The £10bn pledge is more than triple the current £3.1bn being invested by water companies between 2020 and 2025.

However, councillor Tim Adams, leader of North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), said “the damage has already been done” and the investment is “all too late”.

It comes as three of north Norfolk’s beaches lost their Blue Flag status this week after a downgrade in water quality.

Beaches at Mundesley, Sea Palling and East Runton all saw their Environment Agency water quality rating drop from ‘excellent’ to ‘good’.

READ MORE: Council vows to win back Blue Flag status at Norfolk beaches

North Norfolk News:

Mr Adams said: “We were all aware of this scandal and the investment to improve the systems should’ve come years ago, not now.

“The whole thing annoys me. We’ve seen a big impact with the loss of Blue Flag beaches in north Norfolk.

“We need these upgrades to the sewage system because we can’t be in this position in the future.

“It’s an absolute disaster and needs to be solved as soon as possible.”

North Norfolk News:

As well as transforming 350,000 miles of sewer – a length that would stretch 14 times around the world – a new National Overflows Plan promises greater transparency from water companies to allow them to be held to account for overflows.

A new online 'environmental hub' to launch next year will provide 'near real-time' information on the country’s 15,000 overflows.

READ MORE: Fresh calls to end sewage dumping in sea off Norfolk coast

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker welcomed the apology from the water industry but said it has only pledged improvements because it has been forced to by new environment laws.

Mr Baker said: “It is essential that the water companies have admitted and now apologised for not acting quickly enough on sewage spills.

“However, let us be clear: as one of the leading MPs on the environmental audit select committee that highlighted to the government what the water companies were doing, their investment of £10bn is purely part of the £56bn of investment which we have forced them to make through the storm overflows discharge reduction plan.

“It’s positive, but it is only thanks to the laws we’ve passed that they are doing this.”

North Norfolk News: North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker