Almost exactly two years! That is what I was thinking, as I looked round the room at the Left Bank last Tuesday.
Phosphate pollution in the River Wye is a very serious issue, destroying the fragile ecosystem and habitats along this gorgeous river, with huge implications for local businesses, tourism and public health.
Building on the work of Councillor Elissa Swinglehurst and the Wye and Usk Foundation, I was the first to press for a cross border, all-catchment collective long-term action plan, in September 2020.
In June 2021, working with Bill Wiggin MP, Fay Jones MP, Mark Harper MP and David Davies MP, I called the national agencies and the local councils on both sides of the border to a special meeting devoted to this issue. In October 2021 I coordinated a letter from Wye catchment MPs to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, calling for a specific spending package devoted to the Wye in the 2021 three year Spending Review.
The result -- finally, lockdowns and other delays notwithstanding -- was the Shell Store meeting of July 2022 and the set-up of the Wye Phosphates Working Group, whose terms of reference have now been adopted — very much with my support — by the important Phosphates Commission, established by the four local authorities.
Ministers are not able to speak for themselves in Parliament. But as a backbencher, I highlighted the plight of the River Wye in separate Parliamentary Questions to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for DEFRA. Among other things, I called for the proceeds of fines on water companies to be ring-fenced and devoted to a new National Rivers Recovery Fund. In November 2022 the Government accepted the ring-fencing, which is a major win.
I have also asked the new Office of Environmental Protection to review the situation with the Wye, and expect to meet with them shortly.
I finally, have written extensively on this issue, both in the local and national press, including via the links below.
Sir, Thank you for your outstanding campaign to improve the quality of our water. Here in Herefordshire, it has taken more than two years to assemble the cross-border, all-catchment group of agencies, local councils, Welsh Water and other parties needed to address the problem of phosphates in the River Wye.
Jesse Norman raises the threat of phosphate pollution of the River Wye and calls for cross-border action to tackle the issue for the betterment of the Wye and the whole catchment area.
Jesse Norman intervenes in a backbench debate on the strategic priorities for Ofwat to highlight the problem of pollution in the River Wye and the need for a cross-border or all-rivers strategy to tackle phosphate pollution.
At a time when political debate is dominated by public concern over pollution and other threats to the environment, few things are more important than the protection of our rivers and the ecosystems, livelihoods and businesses they support.