May’s View from Westminster

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

This month we reach the business-end of the campaign to designate the River Nidd at the Lido as official bathing water.

Let’s start with good news.  Environment Agency figures show improving water quality since the 1980s. Ammonia and orthophosphate concentrations have decreased dramatically since 1986. Encouragingly BOD levels – which measure how hostile a waterway is to life – have fallen dramatically.  The number of pollution-sensitive invertebrates has increased over the same period.

Notwithstanding these positive and sustained trends there is still water pollution coming from two main sources. 

The first is untreated sewage discharged from the Victorian combined storm overflows.  These overflows operate more frequently in extreme weather conditions and because the things we put down our loos and sinks – principally wet wipes and fat – cause sewer blockages. 

Also, just seven years ago only 862 out of 14,000 storm overflows in England were monitored so we had little idea how often most were operating.  Now 12,393 are monitored so we have a comprehensive picture of the problem.

The other source of pollution is run-off from farmland which contains animal waste chemicals used in agriculture.  This isn’t often acknowledged but significant progress needs to be made as nitrates – used in fertilisers – have not shown the remarkable reduction seen with other pollutants.

Achieving bathing water status means that the Environment Agency will formulate a plan to help address the water quality at a specific point – in our case at the Lido on the River Nidd. 

Water testing is a key part of the bid for bathing water status.  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Leeds University for their work on this with the Nidd Action Group.

The other strand is visual surveys on how the water and its surroundings are used. My office team and I are assisting the Nidd Action Group with this. We have been contacting river-users, nearby businesses and residents asking them to help.  The surveys have to be done at a specific time of year – from 15 May to 30 September – and cover specific times such as bank holidays.

Many have volunteered but we still need more.  If you can help then please let me know by emailing or phoning my office on 01423 529614.  It is simply a case of sitting for an hour at the Lido and noting how many people are there and what they are using the area for.

I know how disappointed many have been at the yah-boo Parliamentary politics surrounding this issue.  What I can say as reassurance is this; in all honesty no Member of Parliament has ever voted to pump sewage into rivers.  It has been happening since Victorian times for the reasons I have explained.    No MP wants the situation to continue. So that is what my team and I are working towards along with politicians of all parties, river users, businesses and the Nidd Action group.  It is a community effort which deserves support.