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Rivers (Cleanliness)

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 11 December 2014

We have made strong progress in cleaning up our rivers, which are now in far better health than they were 20 years ago. Pollution from sewerage works, for example, has gone down significantly, and phosphate pollution will fall by a further fifth and ammonia pollution by a further sixth by next year. Overall, this Government have improved over 15,000 km of rivers—and I am sure you will be interested to know, Mr Speaker, that this is equivalent to the length of the Amazon and Nile combined, but we know that more needs to be done.

I am enlightened by my hon. Friend’s answer, but does he agree with me that farmers who have managed their land and watercourses for many years are well placed to know how best to preserve them, and that if their watercourses should become blocked, they should be allowed carefully to clear them?

We wish to remove unnecessary burdens from farmers and landowners that might discourage them from undertaking their own watercourse maintenance. Seven new river maintenance pilots were launched in October, and these will test how we can ease consent requirements for watercourse de-silting, and improve partnership working, while ensuring that the environment is protected and, where possible, enhanced. The pilots form part of the catchment-based approach, which will ensure that discussions take place with all those involved in river maintenance, while achieving wider environmental outcomes through transparent decision making that involves and integrates environmental interests with others in these local steering groups for the pilots.