Degraded Chalk Stream Environments

Part of Petition - Shelton Road Planning Application – in the House of Commons at 8:10 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire 8:10 pm, 22nd July 2019

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. People such as Jeremy Paxman, Feargal Sharkey—he used to be a pop star but now spends his time campaigning on this issue—Charles Rangeley-Wilson, who my hon. Friend will know, and Martin Salter, on the angling side, are dedicating their lives to trying to make people realise that this environment is as precious as the Brazilian rainforest. We have a major part of a unique environment. The water that comes up—or should do—from the aquifer is so pure, and that is a wonderful thing.

As my hon. Friend said, the problem is a mixture of abstraction; climate change, which means that in the next 25 years we will have 20% less water than we do now; and growth in housing, which means that we are trying to do more with less water. Some of the predictions that house builders and developers make in planning applications—they say that they will be able to get people to use no more than 100 or 120 litres of water a day—are just not in the real world. In my constituency, the average is about 175 litres a day. The first thing that people do in a water-efficient house is to put in a power shower, spoiling the good work of the designers. My hon. Friend is right to say that those predictions do not add up.

Soil erosion is a big issue, on which I have campaigned with WWF; it recently ran a campaign about the subject. As has been said, one of the effects of not having strong rivers is that they end up with soil in them, particularly if farming techniques are not respectful of the surrounding environment. In an area such as ours with hills that have chalk and soil on top, it makes a lot of sense to go for no-till farming, so that the soil is not blown off the tops of hills and into rivers. There is a lot that can be done.

I pay tribute to the societies in my constituency—including the Friends of the Mimram, the River Beane Restoration Association and the new organisation for the River Rib—which are trying hard to highlight the plight of the rivers. Despite the campaigns, the work that has been done and the reports in this House going back some years, we have made only a little bit of progress against a background of deterioration. It is a question of one step forward and two steps back. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue and giving us a chance to highlight the importance of this environment and ecoculture. Much more needs to be done.

On the Abingdon reservoir, I came into this House in 1992, and Thames Water was lobbying us then about building the Abingdon reservoir. Here we are 27 years later, and it has still not been built; it is still a few years away. We need to get on and do this. The background is against us, and action is needed.