9 June 2023
River Wye Update

Almost exactly two years! That is what I was thinking, as I looked round the room at the Left Bank last Tuesday.

Almost exactly two years. On 30 June 2021, I wrote a letter to the Chief Executives of the key agencies with jurisdiction over the river Wye: on the English side, the Environment Agency and Natural England; on the Welsh, Natural Resources Wales.

I had tried for months to get them to focus jointly on the problem of pollution in the Wye, without success. A different tactic was needed. So I wrote an open letter to them, in which I called out their lack of collective responsibility.

This was not the moment to beat around the bush. I wrote "It is not enough for you to 'offer support'. To whom?  To achieve what goals? On what timeline? With what budget? There is, as far as I can see, no public accountability here."

"What is required", I went on, "is a named individual and a taskforce charged with exercising leadership and working across your three agencies, with clear lines of responsibility, covering the whole river."

(This letter and much else, is online here.)

But even so, it took a further year before I was able to get the key parties Into a single room at the Shell Store building in Skylon Park at Rotherwas. That was on 1 July 2022. Present were the four agencies, the local councils of Brecon and Radnor, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire, plus OFWAT and Welsh Water. 

This meeting came up with a set of proposals, which then set the terms of reference for the Phosphates Commission put together by the local councils.  A shared collective local agenda was at last taking shape. Now it needed the backing of the Welsh and UK governments

It was not until last week -- two years after my first letter -- that we finally got a meeting in Hereford with all the parties who needed to be there, including the Secretary of State for DEFRA, Therese Coffey MP,  and the Welsh minister Lee Waters, plus farming representatives, Avara, the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust and others.

Now we are where we needed to be in the first place: where all the parties across the catchment recognise the problem, know they own it, and understand we need a long-term plan and a unified cross-border team to implement it.

Yes, this is a complex issue, and these bodies have other democratic priorities as well. But this has taken them two years, in which the river has been allowed to degrade still further. That is completely unacceptable. 

Now that this initial work has at last been done we need the UK and Welsh governments to lean in, and all the people round that table to take responsibility and put that detailed masterplan together as soon as possible -- and then let's make it happen.