In fact, under the coalition, Herefordshire Council has been leading the way into finding a solution to the phosphate pollution crisis. Meanwhile the Government lets water companies pump raw sewerage in our rivers. This Conservative leaflet is just trying to deflect attention away from their failures.
Anyone who has been paying attention to the river pollution issue will know this accusation is laughable. Since the water industry was privatised by the Thatcher Government, it has been focused on profit over nature.
The latest figures from the Environment Agency show that 72-74% of the pollution in the rivers Lugg and Wye comes from farms. This ‘diffuse agricultural pollution’ has been significantly worsened by the major expansion of the intensive poultry industry in the period 2014-2019 under the previous Conservative administration, when dozens of new planning permissions were granted for intensive poultry units, resulting in Herefordshire now having approximately 20 million chickens in the county at any one time - about one-sixth of the UK’s total production. Their manure gets spread on fields which are already saturated with phosphate, and washes straight into our rivers.
Government has set guidelines (the Farming Rules for Water) to encourage farmers to reduce pollution - but these are not enforced. The Environment Agency is supposed to monitor and enforce the rules but has had its funding slashed by the Conservatives since 2010 - between 2010 and 2020 it was cut by more than half.
Herefordshire Council has no regulatory powers - but we have been left trying to clean up the mess. In October 2019, Natural England effectively imposed a moratorium on housebuilding in the Lugg catchment (link) which has had a devastating effect on the construction industry. The builders estimate that this has created a loss of £360m for the county’s economy (source).
To try to help ‘unlock’ the moratorium, Herefordshire Council has taken the very innovative step of building wetlands to essentially ‘strip’ extra phosphate out of water going into the river. This project has succeeded in unlocking planning permissions in the Lugg catchment, but it is not a solution to the underlying problem.
We’ve also supported the work of the Conservative chair of the Nutrient Management Board. And we have put immense amounts of energy into lobbying the regulatory agencies, the chicken producers, the government and our MPs - but so far the government has been unresponsive. Bill Wiggin MP tried to amend the Environment Act to remove pollution protections altogether, demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the issue and the solutions needed. Our request for a Water Protection Zone was rejected by the Minister without any detailed consideration.
To try to move things along faster, in September 2022 Herefordshire Council set up a Cabinet Commission to bring together Cabinet members from Herefordshire, Powys, Monmouthshire and the Forest of Dean to work together to seek joint solutions.
So in fact, Herefordshire Council have put more time, effort, and funds into trying to resolve the pollution crisis than any other body. The government has failed to respond to our requests and has failed to fund the regulators adequately. Our Conservative MPs have been ineffective or absent on this issue. Herefordshire Council has almost no powers to deal with the phosphate pollution, but we bear many of the costs. The government, the regulators and our Conservative MPs are simply not doing their jobs adequately. Perhaps it’s not surprising that this Conservative election leaflet is trying to deflect attention from their failures.