Tory MP blasts Welsh and English agencies’ failure to work together to tackle river Wye’s pollution problems
Gavin McEwan, local democracy reporter
A Conservative MP has blasted Welsh and English river agencies’ failure to work together to tackle the river Wye’s pollution problems.
Hereford and South Herefordshire MP Jesse Norman said officials’ failure to work together on the river, which runs through Wales and England and forms the boundary between them for many miles, was “deplorable”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Norman said: “What I have seen, having spent two years working on this, has been a lack of leadership a lack of integrated cross-border care.
“Part of the problem is the Wye runs across the English-Welsh border. The agencies involved – Natural Resources Wales, Natural England and the Environment Agency – have done a deplorable job so far in their failure to come together with a single all-river action plan.”
He said that while there was “fantastic” work being done by individuals to improve the river, “there’s got to be some leadership from the regulators and agencies, and that has to be supported by the government as well”.
Pressed by host Mishal Husain over his refusal late last year to back an amendment to the Environment Bill that would have penalised water companies that allowed untreated sewage into rivers, Mr Norman said: “There was a lot of misunderstanding about this.
“The Lords’ amendment was tremendous in principle but unfortunately not enforceable.”
Instead, a new set of rules were eventually put into the legislation which were a “vast improvement” on this, Mr Norman said.
“Sewage is 25 per cent of the problem,” he added. “The real problem is the embedded phosphates (from farming) and that requires monitoring and enforcement, which means money and cross-border leadership.
“That’s not what we’ve seen so far, and we need it.”
BBC climate editor Justin Rowlatt had earlier in the same programme reported from the Wye, saying that one reason for the rise of pollution in the river has been a doubling in the number of chickens being raised in the area from 10 million to 20 million over the last five years.
One resident, Angela Jones, told him she had seen the problem increasing markedly over this time, adding: “This river, which is supposed to be the nation’s favourite, is literally being used as an open sewer.”
Justin Rowlatt’s report highlighted local efforts to improve the river’s condition.
But Jesse Norman said: “I am much less confident than Justin and his report made it seem.
“This is a really big long-term problem, and I do not think that it’s right to strike a note of confidence at this stage.”
A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “We’ve recently secured a share of national Government funding which means there will be a four-fold increase in the regulatory activity on the Wye.
“Our teams will increase farm visits, focusing on high-risk locations and previously non-compliant businesses. We will also be able to carry out a detailed investigation into the management of poultry manure across the catchment and enhance monitoring at high-risk locations.”
Natural England and Natural Resources Wales were also approached for comment.