25 April 2024
Action Plan for the River Wye

Jesse Norman writes for the Hereford Times and the Ross Gazette.

April 19 marked Primrose Day, a celebration of the great reforming Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli.

In similar spirit, I hope that readers will have shared my delight at the recent news of the Government's new £35 million Action Plan for the River Wye.

But the truth is that the real work begins now. After three and a half years of pretty relentless campaigning, endless conversations with ministers and officials, a huge public outcry and considerable delay while the details were worked through at DEFRA, I can tell you that this Action Plan comes not a moment too soon.

It is not perfect, of course, and local people will have many good ideas for improvements. But the Action Plan establishes a vital direction of travel, and at £35 million the funding envelope provided is significantly greater than even I had dared to hope for.

Especially encouraging is the appointment of Anthea McIntyre as the new River Champion. She is a former MEP and Ross-on-Wye Councillor and a person of great integrity and experience.  She lives very close to the river and is well known and widely trusted. And she has already made clear her intention to meet with interested parties along the full length of the river, and to engage with agencies, local authorities and other bodies on the Welsh side of the border as well as the English.

It will be for her to set priorities, of course. But I would not be surprised if they included three key elements: The first is much more dialogue and communication, between farmers and environmentalists, businesses and concerned local people, agencies and public authorities on both sides of the border. This is a collective long-term problem, which can only be solved by collective means.

The second is a strengthened understanding of what is going on locally within the UK and Welsh governments and statutory agencies. To take a case in point, we have a real need for high quality new housing in Herefordshire, and yet the application of environmental regulation makes this impossible in some areas. Serious consideration should be given to a more proportional approach, especially for smaller schemes which support villages and local communities.

 The third is the careful trialing of new technologies. The Government's new Action Plan creates the opportunity for Herefordshire to become a national, perhaps even a global, leader in the treatment and management of excess phosphate. Let's see if we can take that opportunity and clean up the river at the same time.