The CEN (Conservative Environmental Network) have recently released a manifesto that in part will “address” pollution to rivers and sea.
It contains some very good ideas, although in parts it is misguided, from an organisation comprised of some stellar thinkers and protagonists, and as such at times disappointing. The thinking here is still a bit too far to the right of centre for my liking.
Changing Course: A manifesto for our rivers, seas and waterways, with six ways the government can tackle pollution, strengthen our water security, and empower communities.”
Even an optimist as myself has come to expect, the proposal is a very mixed bag, with some worrying hints included. Here is the author’s opinion on the six parts of the manifesto.
1 – Create a River Restoration Fund using the money raised from fining illegally polluting water companies into local initiatives to tackle pollution.
This on the face of it seems like a reasonable idea. But I think at the moment any fines generated should go to the Environment Agency they are already underfunded, and new targets or laws are no use without good enforcement.
So the proposal would see money diverted from the Treasury and go to the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The increase in cap on fines from £250k to £250 million is a great move. But enforcement need attention. And we need to know what “local initiatives” are before we can get excited.
2 – Introduce a clear labelling system to stop people flushing wet wipes, sanitary products and nappies which cause 300,000 sewer blockages a year.
Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last 5 years, I expect you know that flushing plastic is a bad idea. Especially wet wipes. It is interesting the emphasis here is on sewer blockages, rather then ecosystems, it is almost the priority is to save water companies money.
Despite highlighting that wet pipes can cause “spills” there is no mention of combined sewer overflows here. . . which is how the wet wipes get in the river. Because in some cases sewage treatment works are bypassed entirely.
3 – Designate at least 22 new river bathing water sites to give communities the tools to monitor and drive action to reduce pollution.
This is a good idea. As soon as communities start to value their rivers they will hold water companies to account if it is polluted. In the absence of a sufficiently funding environmental enforcement body citizen science is a requirement.
4 – Roll out the Environmental Land Management scheme to pay farmers to restore waterways, tackle flooding, and switch to sustainable farming practices.
Again this is a good idea. Although the devil will be in the detail. There is some good details in this section particularly the realisation that intensive farming is a bad thing, farmers need to be paid more for their produce.
5 – Reform planning rules to build more reservoirs, fast-track on-farm reservoirs and slurry stores, make water firms statutory consultees on planning applications, and ensure new homes have sustainable drainage.
I have some direct experience with slurry stores, and I do agree that some of these are necessarily held up in planning, when they show clear betterment. Water firm are already consultees on applications. “sustainable” . . . the most widely used word of all greenwashers.
6 – Reform nutrient neutrality requirements to unlock the 120,000 new homes currently blocked across 74 local authorities by creating a new private market for developers to fund river catchment restoration.
The nutrient neutrality requirements to protect the waterways, from the nitrogen and or phosphate loading from new developments. You do not solve this problem by “unlocking” 120,000 new homes. There is a fledgling “private market” for phosphate credits, and guess what it is run by water companies.
Water companies that sit on 50 year old unfit for purpose infrastructure, that pollute rivers across the UK, whilst delivering their directors bonuses, and the shareholders maximum dividends.
Rather than scrap nutrient neutrality altogether, the government should instead pursue a market-based, conservative solution to reach the same outcome at a catchment-wide level. Pilot nutrient trading schemes in the Solent and Somerset Broads and Levels show building houses and achieving nutrient neutrality need not be mutually exclusive objectives.
I agree with the above, but the market should be entirely separate to water companies, that is too much of a vested interest, all credits should be listed centrally on a system such as IHS Markit. Drawing parallels from carbon credits market.
Conservative “Environmental” Network
The six points read like greenwash, but digging down there are some really good ideas in there.
My main concern is we need to decouple water companies from any nutrient market, eliminate CSOs, and staff the Environment Agency at appropriate levels so they can enforce properly.