Ensuring the protection from pollution of Bath’s waters and hot springs was an issue raised by the city’s MP Wera Hobhouse in an exchange with Therese Coffey, the Minister for the Environment. She is was critical of the Government’s scrapping of vital indicators for determining water health.
Ms Hobhouse has raised this issue to the Secretary of State before but she avoided the question entirely. Previously, she had focused on the Government’s targets for achieving good ecological status for 75% of rivers but had made no mention of why the Government had removed the indicators for river health. This time, Dr Coffey said water health monitoring was available through the Government but again did not address why the Government had no target to improve overall water quality in rivers and streams in a way to enable the public to know if their rivers are safe.
Up until now, we have been under the regime of the EU Water Framework Directive which had a target for overall ecological health of rivers. However, the EU Retained Laws Bill is still going through Parliament and we do not know if the Government will keep this target. In addition, this target ends in 2027 and there is no clear plan of what will happen after this date. This has led to calls from many conservation groups to have a target set by the Government in order to monitor the state of our rivers and know whether they are in good health.
However, the Government has omitted to set a target for the health of rivers and streams, despite pressure from campaigners. What they have instead opted to do is introduce a target for the reduction of pollution from two sources: agriculture and water, but the monitoring method is from modelling data rather than from water quality monitoring. Even if there is a reduction in pollution from these two sources, there could still be problems with our rivers and streams and we will not know and will not have any incentive to improve things because there is no target to report against and there is no overall ecological monitoring required.
In her question to the Minister, Mrs Hobhouse also highlighted how water quality is of paramount concern to her constituents and the public as just between 2020 and 2021 there were 775,000 sewage spills in England and Wales. These spills have continued at an alarming pace in 2023 which has again promoted calls to action from campaign groups.
Knowing all this, the Secretary of State for DEFRA once again refused to talk about the Government’s omission of these indicators when answering Wera Hobhouse MP’s question.
Wera Hobhouse, MP for Bath, commented:
“I am once again left extremely disappointed in the Secretary of State’s answer. My constituents should be able to know if their water and world-famous hot springs are protected from pollution. The omission of water quality targets and indicators by the Government leaves them unable to give these assurances.
“The Government’s disregard for nature has been laid bare for some time and their lack of care was once again made clear in the Minister’s answer. The Government’s environmental targets are insufficient and vital indicators for measuring our progress towards them have been removed.
“My constituents and people across Britain deserve a Government that will defend nature. Not the neglect that the Conservative Government has shown, allowing for its decline.”
Wera Hobhouse MP’s exchange with the Secretary of State for DEFRA can be found here.