Devizes MP Danny Kruger has launched a new working group to make improvements along three of south England’s major rivers.
The Morgan’s Hill Rivers Group is named for Morgan’s Hill, in Mr Kruger’s constituency in central Wiltshire, which marks the hydrological triple divide of southern England. From here rainfall drains via the Bristol Avon into the Atlantic Ocean, via the Hampshire Avon into the English Channel, and via the Kennet and the Thames into the North Sea.
These rivers, like others across England, suffer excessive abstraction, chemical pollution, and contamination from raw sewage.
Mr Kruger has joined with other MPs representing constituencies through with the three rivers flow. These are: Laura Farris (MP for Newbury); James Gray (MP for North Wiltshire); Andrew Murrison (MP for South West Wiltshire); and Sir Desmond Swayne (MP for New Forest West).
The management of England’s rivers, including the work of the water companies, is overseen by Ofwat, which is itself overseen by the government. In early 2022 the government will issue a Strategic Policy Statement (SPS) for Ofwat, setting out its objectives for the next five years. This is therefore a key moment for the future of England’s rivers.
The group is calling on the government to ensure that the SPS includes the following requirements for Ofwat:
Investment in infrastructure. Water companies should be required to make the appropriate investment in pipes and sewage treatment works, and if necessary enabled to finance this work through increases in prices. Low-income households should be protected from unaffordable water bills and price rises should not finance shareholder returns until the necessary investment in infrastructure has taken place.
Nature-based solutions. Ofwat should create a system for the management of water catchment areas, not just rivers themselves, with new market mechanisms to incentivise good agricultural practice, including afforestation and better drainage, and better and more sustainable housebuilding. This also therefore requires alignment with the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes and the expected reforms to the planning system.
Enforcement. The SPS should stipulate the precise measures that are needed to track the necessary improvements in infrastructure and catchment management. In addition, the government should properly resource the Environment Agency to proactively monitor these measures and enforce the rules, particularly on sewage discharges. Fines should be used more frequently, and the money raised from all fines should be used to finance remediation and nature-based solutions in the affected catchment area.
Danny Kruger said: “I know many of my constituents are deeply concerned about the state of our rivers, both locally and further afield. Over the past months I have been working closely with fellow MPs and local campaign groups to discuss how we can get the best possible outcome from the Ofwat mandate and improve our rivers. Britain’s rivers are the environmental arteries of our country – they must be protected for our future generations to enjoy.”
Charlotte Hitchmough, director of ARK (Action for the River Kennet) welcomed this initiative, telling marlborough.news: “ARK have been working with Danny Kruger and Laura Farris for several years to bring some political attention to the plight of our chalk streams and we are delighted that they and other MPs have taken this initiative to protect the rivers in their constituencies. The existing system to protect rivers is not working, and we need some fundamental changes to allow rivers to recover and thrive. We look forward to some positive changes with strong political support.”