February’s view from Westminster.

Andrew Jones writes a monthly column for the Advertiser series of newspapers. Below is the February article.

I know that party political games happen. I know that some politicians think it is their ‘job’ to make people in other political parties look bad. I know too that parties have strategists who advise them on how to do that.

So I’m not naïve to these things and I know all parties do it. I haven’t really engaged with this side of politics as my focus is primarily doing my best on local issues. But the recent spate of US attack-style campaigning over sewage in water is different because it stands the truth on its head. It needs challenging.

My basic rule applies; if you are told something that sounds completely outrageous it generally isn’t true. This particularly applies to claims made by politicians and political parties.

I voted for a costed plan reducing the use of Combined Sewer Overflows in our sewerage system. These overflows have been present since Victorian times and discharge untreated sewage and rainwater into waterways when sewers are overloaded.

Due to increased severe weather and the change in what we dispose of down our drains (wet wipes being the principal issue) the storm overflows are operating more frequently. This is what we need to change.

If we shut the overflows today sewage would have nowhere to go when sewers are overloaded and would back up into our homes. To suggest that we should do so and I should have voted for that is ridiculous. Do you want your sewage and that of your neighbours backing up the pipes into your home? Of course not.

Removing the overflows will cost up to £593bn. That cost is equivalent to closing the NHS for over three years or not paying benefits or pensions for two years. It is twelve times the defence budget.

These are the reasons why reducing the use of storm overflows must be part of a costed plan. The proposition that storm overflows can be closed today is just false.

Portraying my support for this costed plan as voting to continue dumping sewage in our rivers is nonsense. It is the stuff of political gameplaying and that isn’t something that interests me.

In fact recent votes in Parliament have been good for the environment. We wrote into law long-term targets to improve air quality, long-term targets to reduce residual waste and long-term targets to ensure that a minimum percentage of land in England must be covered in woodland and trees by 2050.

Locally my campaign to have the River Nidd in Knaresborough designated as bathing water is gathering pace. I am working with the owners of the Lido, local anglers, wild water swimmers, businesses, parish councillors and residents to achieve this. I have had meetings with the Environment Agency and the Chief Executive of Yorkshire Water.

These aren’t the actions of someone who wants to see water quality harmed. I repeat; if any political claim seems completely outrageous then it probably isn’t true. And this one certainly wasn’t.