South West Water is being asked to justify its “bland” responses on planning applications, given the rise in sewage spills in Devon’s river and coastal waters.

Torridge District Council wants the company to be removed from the list of statutory consultees and an independent organisation to oversee new developments.

And it plans to ask other councils in Devon to support its request to government.

In his motion to council, Cllr Peter Christie (Green, Bideford North) said he is fed up with SWW’s response of “has no objection” when it is asked to give a view on new plans.

“Over the last decade, this is the answer we get, with very few exceptions.

“Clearly, given the current state of our rivers and coastal waters there is a major problem – and it appears to be overlooked that SWW have a vested interest in more development as it means more customers locked into paying them, as water and sewage services are a monopoly service.”

He told the council that according to SWW’s website, in Bideford last year there were 24 sewage spills, 31 in Buckleigh, 144 in Abbotsham, 117 at Weare Giffard and 25 in Torrington.

“South West Water will take the money for every new house but are not doing what they should be doing in tackling the infrastructure.”

He said in the late 1970s and 80s a ‘sewage embargo’  was placed on Bideford and house building stopped for several years because the town’s infrastructure couldn’t cope.

“Nothing has really changed, they cannot cope with the sewage capacity and water availability is also an issue when we have a drought as there are no new reservoirs planned.”

Cllr Annie Brenton (Lab, Bideford West) said there is a large new development under construction in Bideford beyond Atlantic Village and the council needs to be “really careful and scrupulous” about planning details for drains and sewerage.

“At the moment, South West Water’s behaviour is scandalous. They don’t carry out their legal responsibilities. They are continually breaking the law. They prevaricate and fob you off. We really need to make sure we have an independent, honest assessment of our sewage needs in this area. We need somebody with integrity where profit is not the sole consideration.

“The welfare of our people and our rivers and our sea is just as important as making money.”

Cllr Simon Newcombe (Con, Winkleigh) said independent was “all very good” but if it was not legally enforceable it was not worth the money spent on it.

Cllr David Brenton (Lab, Bideford South) said: “We should be getting Ofwat here. They are supposed to be the ones that are regulating and monitoring this, but they don’t.

“They have the teeth, but they don’t use them. It’s a quango of course, we know how loaded they are, but we need to get them here and ask them ‘what are you doing about the spills in our rivers and seas’.”