Concerted move to tackle water pollution wins strong support

Pollution in Gayle Beck in June.

A wide-ranging move to take urgent and concerted actions to improve water quality across England’s largest county has been enthusiastically supported by an influential committee.

North Yorkshire Council’s transport, environment and economy scrutiny committee backed recommending the authority approves a notice of motion to take a leading role in helping tackle pollution in the county’s rivers, watercourses and coastal waters.

The cross-party support for the move follows years of community leaders expressing exasperation over water issues and could lead to strict limits on housebuilding in some areas and the council’s tenants farmers demonstrating how to cut the amount of chemicals entering the water system.

Calling for urgent, widespread and concerted action at a number of government levels, Councillor Melanie Davis said: “We as an authority are not using the power we have. Until we call upon the people who have the power to do something about it, what we are doing is delivering the bad news and putting a sticking plaster on it.”

The meeting heard numerous councillors underline the gravity of the situation and concerns the next big conflict the country would be involved in would involve water as a key factor.

Introducing the motion, Councillor Arnold Warneken said told the meeting how studies had found one-in-five breastfeeding mothers were inadvertently giving microplastics to their children.

Referring to the council’s water quality actions, he said: “In my opinion we are being reactive, rather than pro-active.”

He called on the authority to worker more closely with firms such as Yorkshire Water and to “not disassociate” knowledgeable groups such as Surfers Against Sewage from the decision-making process.

The committee unanimously agreed the authority needed to recognise it has a role to protect the rivers, watercourse and seas in North Yorkshire and precious habitats these support as far as possible from the cumulative impacts of pollution, including in line with local and national planning policy.

The notice of motion, which will be put to a full meeting of the authority next month, would see Yorkshire Water quizzed over the potential impacts of major
developments, and crucially, to clarify which treatment works would be managing the sewage and to confirm their capacity to take waste.

In addition, councillors agreed all council assessments of proposed major developments should feature impacts on watercourses, including the potential
for the development to affect sewage outflow into watercourses.

Councillor Mark Crane, the former leader of Selby District Council, told members the water quality issue related to the rising number of people living in the country.

He said until somebody did something to tackle immigration or the number of children being born people could not expect to have the environment they want.

Officers told the meeting the authority was already involved in a lot of initiatives to improve quality, such as the summit it staged over South Bay in Scarborough earlier this month, and works on the rivers Leven and Foss.

They said the authority was already looking to use the planning-making process to improve water quality alongside Government moves to enable local authorities to robustly tackle water utility firms.

The authority’s climate change champion, Councillor Paul Haslam, called for the council to focus its efforts to improve water quality by forming a central committee, saying while a lot of good work was being undertaken by the council “none of us know about it”.