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.
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.
Gazette readers will need no reminder of how important the River Wye is to the identity not just of Ross-on-Wye – the clue is in the name – but to the whole region. As I highlighted recently in the House of Commons, this is a priceless national asset which we must do everything we can to protect and enhance in the face of serious phosphate and nitrate pollution.
Speaking in the Budget debate in the House of Commons, Jesse Norman called on the Government to establish a cross-border, cross-agency, single strategy to clear up phosphate pollution in the River Wye and restore it to its pristine glory.