- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Category: Feature
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Senedd Member Joyce Watson says ‘catastrophic’ river contamination in England proves Wales was right to enforce nation-wide agricultural pollution regulations last year.
Speaking in the Senedd on Tuesday (27 September), the Labour member for Mid and West Wales criticised former UK environment minister – now Prime Minister – Liz Truss for allowing farmers in England to pollute rivers in the name of ‘slashing red tape’.
She also asked for an update on the £40 million the Welsh Government is investing over the next three years to tackle water quality problems, which was announced in August by First Minister Mark Drakeford – one of eight interventions agreed at a special river pollution summit held at the Royal Welsh Show.
Farming minister Lesley Griffiths, who last year introduced regulations to control agricultural pollution, said she was reluctant to ‘tell people what to do’ but the voluntary approach had failed.
Joyce Watson MS said:
“In 2015, the UK environment Secretary, Liz Truss, boasted of cutting 34,000 farm inspections. It effectively allowed farmers in England to dump waste like pesticide and animal faeces directly into rivers, including the Wye valley, where research by Lancaster University found there were 3,000 tonnes of excess phosphorus, caused by agriculture, seeping into the valley’s waterways.
“Do you agree with me that this gross negligence and its legacy of pollution that lapped at our shores this summer underlines why the Welsh Government was absolutely right to take an all-Wales approach to legislate against agricultural pollution? And are you able to update us on how the £40 million that the (Welsh) government is investing over the next three years to tackle this issue will be targeted?”
The Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations essentially designate all of Wales as a ‘Nitrate Vulnerable Zone’. It was fiercely opposed by farming unions that brought an unsuccessful legal challenge.
According to the National Audit Office, as environment Secretary Truss cut £24 million from a government grant for environmental protection – including surveillance of water companies to prevent the dumping of raw sewage. Labour Party analysis suggests she presided over a total £235 million cut to the Environment Agency.
Responding to Joyce, minister Lesley Griffiths said:
“As you know, I didn’t really want to bring those regulations forward. I don’t think anybody likes being told what to do. But the voluntary approach hadn’t worked, and I do think it was important we brought those regulations forward, which target activity known to cause pollution, wherever it takes place. So, I think that all-Wales approach is about a preventative action and not waiting for our water bodies to fail.
“You asked specifically around the £40 million that we gave, I think over the next three years, to address other causes of water quality problems across Wales, and that funding is being used…in relation to remediating metal mines and restoring modifications to waterways.”
The Welsh River Pollution Summit, convened by the First Minister, brought together senior representatives from regulators, water companies, developers, local government, farming unions, academia and environmental bodies to agree how to improve the condition of Welsh rivers.
In his written statement, Mark Drakeford said:
“We are providing more support and funding than ever before and will continue to promote a collaborative approach, bringing together delivery partners, including regulators, developers, farmers, water companies and communities, to identify and implement sustainable solutions to reduce the pollution in our rivers.
“In doing so, we can maximise opportunities to provide wider benefits, such as improved access to nature, decarbonisation, flood protection and enhanced habitat and biodiversity.”
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