River Lea: Diane Abbott joins campaign against pollution 'inaction'

The extent of the pollution was shown in a YouTube film

The extent of the pollution was shown in a YouTube film - Credit: Ian Phillips

Diane Abbott has expressed her support for the campaign against River Lea plastic and sewage pollution, criticising government cuts to the Environment Agency (EA). 

The Hackney North MP spoke out after a video filmed by Ian Phillips exposed the rampant pollution of the Hackney Marshes section of the Lea - and what he described as the EA’s ‘inaction’. 

Ms Abbott said: “Campaigners are right to raise the issue and there has clearly been a lack of action from the EA. 

“The government talks a good game on the environment but has implemented cuts. Ministers need to do much more and I will be supporting the Bill in parliament to ban plastics in wet wipes." 

Just 14 per cent of English rivers meet ‘good’ ecological standards by the EA’s own metric.

Just 14 per cent of English rivers meet ‘good’ ecological standards by the EA’s own metric. - Credit: Ian Phillips

Since 2010 funding for the EA has been cut by nearly two-thirds resulting in a lack of funding to tackle waterway pollution. Just 14 per cent of English rivers meet ‘good’ ecological standards by the EA’s own metric. None of them meet ‘good’ chemical standards.

In Ian’s video, Hackney environmental campaigner Julian Kirby, 46, and other activists criticised the EA’s ‘dismissive’ response to the Lea pollution issue but recognised the impact of insufficient funding on its capabilities.

Julian told the Gazette: “It is easy to pin all the blame on the EA and it deserves some of the blame, but ultimately it goes higher than that. 

“I find this situation so galling not because of what it is doing to the natural environment I love so much. But also because of the mind-boggling hypocrisy of these people in government who sound off about banning straws, but are not even scratching the surface of these problems they know are there."

He added: "What you need from the top is a clear sense of ambition that you are going to deal with the problem. The government needs to provide resources in cash terms and empower agencies, alongside creating and enforcing regulations.

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“We need a government committed to ending pollution, not the waffle that sounds good at COP26."

Storms and droughts have exposed the extent of the problem.

Storms and droughts have exposed the extent of the problem. - Credit: Ian Phillips

Julian and Ian praised the work of Hackney Council and the mayor for his proactive response to the issue. But they stressed more needed to be done, such as improving rubbish collections and bin designs to keep foxes out. 

Councillor Caroline Woodley said: “At a meeting with the EA attended by [members] earlier this year it was agreed that we will continue working with them on addressing pollution.

“In regards to waste disposal, we have recently introduced fortnightly collections, in line with four in five councils across the UK, which has helped to increase recycling rates at street-level properties to 48 per cent.  

“Recycling and food waste collections remain weekly. The main reason foxes are attracted to rubbish is because food waste is left in bags, so we encourage residents to recycle food waste using one of our free fox-proof food waste bins to stop foxes. When we introduced fortnightly collections, we also gave each property a wheelie bin, which helps to stop foxes.”

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) representative said DEFRA and its agencies received a £4.3billion increase in overall funding in the latest spending review. 

A spokesperson for the South-East England section of the EA also released a statement, which said: "We share residents' concerns about the River Lea and we are working with our partners to improve water quality. 

“We secured a £250million investment from Thames Water to upgrade Deephams Sewage Treatment Works and improve the quality of effluent discharging into the river. 

“We have also worked closely with Thames Water on the Lee Tunnel, a huge sewer pipe preventing approximately 16 million tonnes of untreated sewage from discharging into the River Lea each year.”
 

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