In 2021 the Government's Environment Agency received more than 100,000 reports of pollution in England. The public and their elected representatives reported rivers choked with human waste and toxic run-off, fish killed and nature reserves poisoned.
Virtually all of these reports were ignored and now we understand why.
Recently, leaked documents revealed that the Agency, which is tasked with the protection of England's environment, had ordered its personnel to ignore all but the most high-profile pollution incidents. Its staff responded to just 8,000 of the 116,000 potential pollution incidents reported to them.
Underfunding and low morale across those Agency teams tasked with protecting the natural environment and wildlife informs this this statistic.
Locally, Kent Lib Dems wrote to the Environment Agency's Area Director (who has ultimate responsibility for pollution incidents in Kent) last summer, demanding urgent action to tackle the shocking decline in the health of local watercourses. We have now received a response from the Area Director, which, significantly, included an offer for local authorities to work more closely with the Environment Agency on restoring our rivers. Lib Dems are further concerned that the state of the county's watercourses is a scandalous omission from district council Local Development Plans - despite the fact that in other parts of England these planning blueprints are driving action on river restoration.
Kent County Council Lib Dem Group Environment and Transport Spokesperson Ian Chittenden is demanding increased funding for pollution enforcement, paid for from the fines that currently go direct to the Treasury, and a meaningful partnership between the Environment Agency and Kent County Council to provide strategic leadership on cleaning-up Kent's rivers.
"Local decisions on roads, minerals, housing and economic development all have big consequences for our watercourses, because of Kent's antiquated sewerage systems and profoundly polluting highway drainage infrastructure.
"Increasing demand for potable water, fuelled by the Government's unsustainable housing targets, is bleeding Kent's landscape dry, while all this unprecedented development has also seen exponential growth in quantities of foul waste water and contaminated run-off reaching our natural environment".