Readers of the Ross Gazette will need no reminding of my passion about the importance of cleaning up the river Wye. The past two weeks have been important to this project on two fronts.
Much public attention has rightly focused on the Environment Bill, and the issue of discharges of sewage by water companies into rivers. Unfortunately, there has also been a certain amount of misunderstanding of the Parliamentary process.
What we saw was not the final stage of the Bill, and the key Lords amendment included a fine-sounding but vague and unenforceable duty on water companies to take "reasonable steps" to limit discharges. I and some of my colleagues abstained on this measure, pending the outcome of discussions with the Government on an improved version.
Following those discussions, I am delighted to say that the Government announced that the Environment Bill will now be further strengthened in order to tackle the release of sewage, by replacing the present vague language of "reasonable steps" with statutory backing in law for specific agreed plans to reduce discharges. This is a great improvement.
Separately, it was a mixed result last week for our own proposals for the River Wye in the Spending Review. The Government committed in the Review to tackle nutrient pollution as part of a £250 million; a welcome result, but one that does not go far enough.
In particular, in our own case, the policy language did not address the need to bring the different agencies, local authorities and other bodies together in a way that covers the whole of the River Wye, on both sides of the border.
I will continue to press the Government on the detail of our proposal: that in collaboration with the Welsh Government it should set up a cross-agency, cross-border task force dedicated to a focused effort to clean up the Wye.
First published in the Ross Gazette, 3 Nov 2021