Amendment 102

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 18 July 2023.

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Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 7:00, 18 July 2023

One of the problems that I raised during our debate on 18 May in Committee was the problem of surface water run-off from farms and roads, which was causing problems for our rivers. I am extremely grateful to and would like to thank my noble friend the Minister for the letter that he sent me on 23 June, in which he commented a bit more on the points that I raised. The interesting thing about that letter was his comment on the surface run-off from roads. He said that Defra was

“working with the Department for Transport to reduce the impact of the strategic road network and roads managed by local highways authorities on water bodies”.

It just shows what an important cross-government issue this is.

The difficulty that my noble friend has is that he has to work at one remove from the local authorities. The reason I stress the local authorities is that the next day, on 19 May, I was on the River Piddle, a lovely chalk stream, and at 3.30 pm the river was gin clear—it was what a chalk stream should be. We had quite a good thunderstorm and within an hour that river was chocolate brown; it was full of silt and run-off, and the roads were under water. There was run-off from the farmland adjacent to the river—the whole aquatic environment of the river was affected by that thunder- storm; it was a short-term disaster for the river, created by human behaviour. Something similar happened to us humans when we had the smog in the early 1950s. We tackled that problem; it was a manmade problem and we tackled it with the Clean Air Act. It is equally important that we now tackle the problems facing our rivers. It will take a major effort by the Government and across government to do that.

All our rivers are important, but why are the chalk streams just that bit more important? It is worth reiterating that 85% of the world’s chalk streams are in England; they are our equivalent of the rainforests. We have a special responsibility to those rivers, and if we do not give a lead to the rest of the world on such an important issue, we will not be doing nature justice.

There are three key indicators of the ecological health of rivers: water quality, water quantity and the physical habitat. The key to getting all of those right is management. The Government will need every single tool in the toolbox and every policy to be able to take the necessary action to fight off the vested challenges from all quarters that they will need to do to establish chalk streams to the standard that we expect and fulfil the one big wish, so rightly mentioned by my noble friend Lord Trenchard.

The Bill is about regenerative action and levelling up, and it is intended to give places a sense of identity. As my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, many of the rivers flow through towns as well as the countryside. The restoration of the rivers could bring huge opportunities and benefits to those towns and to the countryside for both nature and humans. If we do not take this opportunity, we will be letting nature and ourselves down.