20 January 2022
Rural services and cleaning up the River Wye

Last week saw the publication of two important reports. Both have a direct bearing on the future of Herefordshire.  Together they reinforce the importance of the Government’s new Levelling Up strategy, and the urgent need to clean up the river Wye. 

Rural England’s report on the State of Rural Services 2021 focuses on the impact of the pandemic. It highlights a number of key trends, including the variable impact of Covid on rural high streets, which has been good for food retailers, but very difficult for many other retailers, and leisure and hospitality businesses.

It also draws attention to the temporary closure of community and village halls; the loss of rural pubs; the continuing value of bus services; and the huge spike in online usage, with an accelerating need for full fibre broadband. 

The second report is into the state of England’s rivers, by the Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons, chaired by the great Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow. 

This is a detailed, comprehensive and unsparing examination of the different causes of pollution in our rivers. In particular, it identifies a "chemical cocktail" of sewage, slurry and plastic in our rivers, only 14% of which meet good ecological standards.

Coming from a Committee led by a Marches MP, the report is especially good in analysing problems with our own river Wye. But it is restricted by the Committee's remit to England only, and so cannot consider the importance of an integrated strategy for the whole river.

We need that integrated strategy,  including support from the Welsh government and leadership from Natural Resources Wales, alongside the Environment Agency and Natural England.  That must remain the overwhelming priority

Readers will know that I am also continuing to press for better, faster broadband across Herefordshire.  Last week, I had the chance to see all the new full fibre installation work being carried out by Zzoomm in Hereford -- and to meet Liam, their latest recruit through the Government's Kickstart programme.  That was great!

It is exciting that full fibre is also being rolled out in Ross.  But roll-out in many rural areas has been stalled, and some still have old and dire Openreach infrastructure.  I am on their case too.

We await the Government's Levelling Up White Paper, expected in early February. In many ways, Herefordshire is the perfect test case for its policies:  sparse, thinly populated, with low wages -- and massive potential.

First published in the Hereford Times, 20 Jan 2022