Agenda and minutes

Environment Scrutiny Committee - Wednesday 9 December 2020 10.00 am, NEW

Items
No. Item

2.

Declarations of interest

Members of the Committee are invited to declare any pecuniary or

personal interests relating to specific matters on the agenda.

 

Please see note (a) at the end of the agenda.

Minutes:

Cllr Phil Awford declared an interest as Chair of the National Flood Forum and as a representative for the Wessex/Severn Wye at the Regional Flood Defence Committee.

3.

Motion 864: Restoring our rivers pdf icon PDF 55 KB

Representatives from the Environment Agency to present their response to Motion 864. Attachments include:

 

1.    Wording of the motion passed by full Council on 9 September 2020

 

2.    An initial response report from GCC officers summarising the roles and responsibilities  for watercourse pollution in Gloucestershire.

 

3.    A report from the Environment Agency and accompanying Appendix 1.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

3.1       To begin, the Chair invited Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, the proposer of the original motion, to introduce the item. The Committee were reminded that this motion was presented at full Council in September 2020 and received a lot of cross-party support.

 

3.2       Gloucestershire was very proud of its natural landscape and the 28 rivers within attracted a lot of visitors, revenue and enjoyment for the county’s residents. What had come to light more recently however, was the level pollution of these rivers were experiencing through the discharge of harmful pollutants, raw sewage and human waste. This pollution was causing extensive damage to our fragile eco system as well as being a major public health concern for residents and visitors. This issue was not unique to Gloucestershire, across the country, only 14% of rivers were rated as ‘good’ in terms of ecological status. For the Thames region this figure falls to just 3%. It was a topic that was beginning to be discussed all the way up to national politics.

 

3.3       In terms of GCC’s responsibility, the proposer saw Councillors role as elected officials to step up and be the first port of call to hold relevant authorities to account and show leadership on tackling this scandal.

 

3.4       Second, the Chair invited Cllr Bernard Fisher, seconder of the initial motion, to contribute. The Councillor endorsed the previous comments and urged the Committee this was a non-political issue which was of major national concern. They added that this problem was only going to get worse through increased housing capacity, free range farming and the impacts of climate change on our weather patterns.

 

3.5       The Committee next welcomed David Hudson, Environment Manager for Gloucestershire and Warwickshire at the Environment Agency (EA), to present their response to the motion. Members noted the following points:

 

·         The EA recognised GCC’s responsibilities (as set out by the published report from James Blockley) as the lead flood authority, and being distinct from that of the EA on this issue.

·         The approach to how we managed water pollution in the UK was complicated. It was a two regulator approach where the EA set the environmental standards (which were largely driven by national legislation) and enforce those standards but they did not control the investment water companies were required to contribute towards delivering improvements to water management.

·         These investment levels were set over a 5-6 year period by an organisation called OfWat and they regulated the economic delivery of that expenditure. This was essentially the control factor for how quickly essential improvements could be delivered.

·        The target for these improvements however, was not to deliver water of ‘bathing’ standard, but to a standard of acceptable ecological status, which was not as high a standard as bathing/drinking water. This was not a decision the EA were able to reverse as it derived from national legislation. The EA were very aware that this was often misunderstood by the public and there was a noticeable mismatch between what the legislation was designed to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 3.

4.

River Severn Partnership pdf icon PDF 3 MB

To receive a presentation on the River Severn Partnership.

Minutes:

4.1       The Chair invited Hayley Deighton, West Midlands Sustainable Growth Manager & River Severn Partnership Programme Manager for the Environment Agency, to present this item. Members noted the following points:

 

·         Slide 2 gave an overview of the Partnership and where it was headed. The Partnership was formed in September 2019 and was aimed at looking at the opportunities for the EA to take a proactive role in developing long term planning to protect, and enhance our environment, whilst also bringing together collective resources from across the geography.

·         The environmental drive for this was the significant challenges that would continue to impact us such as climate change, water quality, Brexit and land management, but there were also economic and social drivers for creating this long-term, sustainable growth.

·         The environment had to become the forefront of our future planning, but was also an important asset that needed active management for society and our future economy.

·         The Partnership recognised many individual organisations were continuing to do good work, but that we can’t, and shouldn’t, be taking on these challenges alone.

·         Slide 3 set out the needs, risks and opportunities that had already been identified. It was highlighted that the risks and financial impacts currently would only continue to increase if no action was taken.

·         Doing nothing was no longer an option. The prediction on increasing river levels alone posed a real challenge for communities along the Severn, as well as the predications on reducing water availability and quality.

·         There were however real opportunities to release significant benefits from spending and investing in the natural environment. Not only would it boost productivity but it would also reduce yearly revenue costs of dealing with increasing major incidents.

·         The Partnership would seek to bring together water and environmental management, to put it at the forefront of our thinking and deliver wide reaching place based resilience, net environmental gain and benefits for our economy and society as a whole.

·         Slide 7 summarised the many different organisations that had now joined the Partnership which included all local authorities along the catchment, LEPs, Welsh Partners, many environmental groups as well as wider reaching organisations such as Homes England etc.

·         Slides 8-14 outlined and reinforced the current and predicted impacts of flooding, drought and climate change on Gloucestershire.

·         Slide 15 detailed the work of the Partnership to date which included continued wider engagement on the risks of no action, the formation of a 46 MP Consortium to help connect its work into national Government, an early success of a £41m investment to accelerate 3 existing schemes (detailed under Now on slide 16) and the official identification of the Partnership as a national pilot.

·         It had also brought in consultancy support to pull together and rank all projects from across the geography and partner organisations (around 200 individual projects). These would then be categorised into 1 of 4 demonstrator project groups:

1.    Looking at resilience and how we unlock potential – proactively build water management schemes that unlock further benefit and recycle  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Work Plan pdf icon PDF 57 KB

To review the attached work plan and suggest items for consideration at the next two meetings of this Committee (January and March 2021).

Minutes:

The Committee discussed the following points in relation to its ongoing work plan for the remaining two meetings of this Council:

 

·         The end of a Council term provided a good opportunity to look back at promises made and whether actions had been taken. An item on the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure strategy was requested for the Committee’s meeting in January.

·         For March, the Committee requested a report on the issue of flood water impacting the highways and rail developments in the county.

·         There was a discussion about the climate impact assessments of Cabinet decisions. Cllr Moor (Cabinet Member for Environment and Planning) advised the Committee he was due to present the annual climate change report to Cabinet on 16 December 2020.

·         The majority of the Committee therefore agreed to review this report, and the outcomes of the December Cabinet meeting, before requesting any updates on the impact assessment work, amongst other things.

·         A member stressed the importance of this Committee looking into the issue, ascertaining what action had already been taken and what was planned for the future.