Degraded Chalk Stream Environments

Part of Petition - Shelton Road Planning Application – in the House of Commons at 8:46 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 8:46 pm, 22nd July 2019

It is entirely realistic. Indeed, we want to go further and get the figure down to 110 litres. We believe that that is entirely possible, and I will address that further in my contribution, especially as Matt Western referred to it as well.

Work has also been done by water companies to improve the water quality of chalk streams, which my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne also identified as an issue. More than £3.4 billion has been invested between 2010 and 2015 to support the achievement of the water framework directive environmental objectives. I shall repeat that figure: £3.4 billion has been invested by the water companies. This has contributed to substantial reductions in phosphate pollution, to which chalk streams are particularly sensitive, and additional investment is proposed to secure further improvements. Water companies are also engaged in research to overcome technical limitations on phosphorus reduction. Additionally, 650 sewage treatment works across England, serving 24 million people, have phosphate removal in place, and many of them are on chalk streams.

The Government expect to see a multi-sector approach to managing water resources and want water companies to continue to engage in the catchment that they serve. We want them to take the lead on developing local catchment solutions to address the needs of all water users in their region. We are already seeing how this can work. I am particularly proud of Anglian Water, as Water Resources East is taking an innovative cross-sector approach and making important links to improve water abstraction management.

As my hon. Friend said, a large proportion of the water that is abstracted is for public supplies. Reducing the pressure on such supplies will also help to protect the environment. To do this, we need a twin-track approach of reducing demand for water, including driving down leakages, while increasing supply. That is why we recently launched a consultation, to which I hope my right hon. and hon. Friends will contribute, to understand by how much we can reduce personal water use by 2050 and the measures we need to implement to get there, including tightening building regulations, the labelling of water-using products and metering. This autumn, we plan to lay our national policy statement for water resources infrastructure, which will streamline the planning process for nationally significant water resource infrastructure projects, helping to increase water supplies.

I hope my hon. Friend will appreciate that Thames Water and Affinity Water are still developing their water resources management plans. They recently referred their statement of responses to their consultations to DEFRA, which the Department and the Environment Agency are assessing. That process is ongoing, and that assessment includes the proposed reservoir near Abingdon. The evidence from the National Infrastructure Commission is clear that new water infrastructure is required alongside a reduction in leakage, and I welcome the proposals from Thames Water, Affinity Water and others to develop regional strategic solutions for the south-east.

We want to see water companies taking more of a regional approach to water resource planning. They will need to make an assessment of the needs of different water users, including the owners of new homes, and the needs of the environment. That will be informed by the Environment Agency’s national framework, which is due to be published at the end of this year and will illustrate the regional and national challenge of water availability, as well as the needs of different water using sectors.

I am pleased to say that we have also consulted on legislative improvements to ensure that water companies’ plans are informed by effective collaboration, taking into account the plans of regional groups. We also recently consulted on a number of additional legislative measures regarding abstraction. Ofwat, the Environment Agency, and the Drinking Water Inspectorate all recognise the importance of a regional approach, which is why they set up the water Regulators Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development—water RAPID—team to ensure a smooth regulatory path for strategic water transfers and joint infrastructure projects.

My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald mentioned several streams in his constituency, and he is a champion on this matter. Anyone who looks at his website will see the long list of actions that he has taken, and he is right to praise the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust for its important work. I have already referred to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire and the fact that I grew up in Whitchurch, so I know about the importance of the River Test. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham referred to the important Ox-Cam issue, and my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire is the Minister for that project and is aware of the importance not only of environmental issue, but of the water needs of households in that area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne started to talk about windscreens, insects and so on, and the IPBES report recognises the biodiversity challenge that we face. The main problem is with habitats and the change in land use. Rivers also face challenges, and my hon. Friend is right to stress that. As my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon pointed out, 80% of species under threat of extinction are invertebrates, which is why we must cherish habitats such as chalk streams.

I should also point out to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire that the aerodynamics of modern cars also contribute to our seeing fewer dead insects on our windscreens, but we are also driving somewhat slower because we are complying with speed limits when compared with what we might have got away with in the past—not “we”; I should not attribute that comment to any person in this House. He also talked about soil erosion and no-till farming, and I completely agree with him and the others who made this point. They should be champions for no-till farming, but they also need to be champions for glyphosate, as the people who advocate no-till farming rely on glyphosate. Indeed, its existence is under threat from 2022.