Chalk Streams

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

What steps she is taking to protect chalk streams.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This Government are committed to taking action to protect and enhance the water environment, including our valuable chalk streams. Chalk streams are under particular pressure at the moment due to low groundwater levels following two dry winters. We are working closely with partners to reform and reduce the volume of abstraction, deliver catchment sensitive farming, reduce pollution and plan future environmental resilience.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

Today is a sad day for Buckinghamshire, Mr Speaker, because we are going to lose you as the Member for Buckingham. Before I ask my question of the Minister, may I just say that you have been a superb colleague to sit alongside? I am going to miss you particularly because you will not be there to join me in championing the Chilterns, but you have consistently stood by my side when opposing HS2, and you are to be congratulated on what you have done on autism. As I press for the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty to become a national park, I do hope that, even though you will have left this place, you will still stand by my side and support that proposal.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

Thank you.

The Chess and the Misbourne are ecologically vulnerable chalk streams in my constituency, and there are several in the Chilterns that are under threat. HS2 Ltd has now said that it requires 8 million litres of water a day for two years in order to build phase 1 of HS2. That means that we could face over-abstraction again, and could see these streams irreparably damaged or destroyed altogether. Will Ministers really take this on board and work with the Department for Transport to get HS2 cancelled—and, if not, to protect these absolutely precious pieces of our environment for our future generations?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Chalk streams are some of our most precious environments, so this is a serious issue. The Environment Agency is advising HS2 Ltd and its contractors on mitigating the potential impact of its work on water levels and the quality of chalk streams, including when it comes to water usage for tunnelling in the Chilterns. The Environment Agency will be reviewing any application for increased abstraction in line with the relevant abstraction management strategy to ensure that there is no detrimental effect on chalk streams. I take this matter very seriously and would be happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss this further because chalk streams are so important and it is important that we get this right.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

Mr Speaker, thank you for turning the pronunciation of challenging surnames into an art form in itself—although I have to say that my campaign to be called in reverse alphabetical order continues.

The River Cam is fed by chalk streams. In July this year, it fell to a third of its normal level, which has caused huge concern not just in Cambridge, but in the surrounding county. This has happened largely due to over-abstraction. What can the Minister to do to assure us that that is going to be tackled with urgency?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The issue with chalk streams, of course, is that they are fed by groundwater from aquifers; they are very special areas of water extraction. There is going to be section in the Environment Bill on abstraction licences. I hope that when that gets going and we have proper discussions about that Bill, it will include some ameliorations for chalk streams.