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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Inaccurate coverage in the Guardian

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A combined sewer overflow in action

An article in today’s Guardian wrongly claims that the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, has “endorsed a proposal to water down laws on the cleanliness of polluted rivers, lakes and coastlines after Brexit”.

This is inaccurate and misleading.

Sir James gave a speech (‘In praise of red tape’) about environmental regulation and how it can be used to achieve the best possible outcomes for our environment, including the health of our rivers.

In this speech he said that regulation:

  • is essential to protect the environment.
  • works, which is why many of our rivers are cleaner than at any time since the Industrial Revolution
  • needs teeth, including in tackling water companies which pollute our waters. He cited the £20m fine the Environment Agency secured against Thames Water.
  • should aim to enhance not just protect the environment.

He used the example of altering the Water Framework Directive (WFD) to encourage debate about how to better and more innovatively measure the health of our rivers so we can improve them.

He also made clear that the test of any changes should be better environmental outcomes. To claim that he was arguing to weaken laws on the cleanliness of polluted rivers is completely false.

We have recently blogged about the work the Environment Agency and Defra are carrying out to protect our rivers and waterways. In this, we explain why storm overflows are used, and only used, when absolutely necessary, and the action that is taken against water companies that breach their environmental permits.

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  1. Comment by Ashley Smith posted on

    Your agency also corrected Sandra Laville but forgot to mention that parts of the water industry grossly under reported the true extent of sewage spilling and your Agency knew the figures and have not mentioned them to the public. WHY?
    Still banging on about the £20m from 2017 when you should be asking
    1, Why did the industry think it could pollute on an epic scale - because it has been doing so unchecked for years.
    2. As the offences were committed in 2013/14 and it was such a 'success', why are things getting worse. It is still cheaper to pay tehvery occasional fine.
    You are either a very deceitful man or your staff are not telling you what is really going on - and it is your job to know. The EA has become despised for its complicity in the ruination of our rivers. You could have changed that. Maybe you need to engage with the third sector where we deal in truth, not lies.

  2. Comment by Geoff Tombs posted on

    The sugestion that the mention of altering the WFD in order to encourage debate is a Trumpism. The area of the WFD that was specifically dwelt on was the "one out all out" rule. Quite simply any changes to that rule would only serve to artificially inflate the number of water bodies in a good state and hide the real truth. There are plenty of other ways to record improvements within the four criteria that would avoid this distortion.

  3. Comment by JB posted on

    Unfortunately, I don't believe that any media organisation are free from the ethos of interpreting the subject of their articles in a light that generates the most views and traffic. Gone are the days that the media could be trusted to report things accurately. As we all know, nothing stimulates views on a video or article quite as much as moral outrage.

    It's sad that not enough people will read deeper than the Guardian article and, as such, will never see rebuttals such as this.

    • Replies to JB>

      Comment by Mr. Chris Watson posted on

      The DEFRA statement is no rebuttal. It’s full of flannel but nowhere commits to being at least as strict or stricter than “one out, all out”. “Innovative” is just a euphemism.

  4. Comment by George M posted on

    Time will Tell. We now live in the era of rhetoric where the resulting reality differs radically from what the words imply.

  5. Comment by Stuart posted on

    Would always believe the Guardian above ANY government agency.
    Where's Boris?

  6. Comment by Simon Broddle posted on

    A bad dog will continue to bite until you "man up" and stop it. The UK government is letting the mainstream media bite it on a continual/daily basis.
    You won't stop the dog so don't be surprised when you're bitten! Writing this in a small DEFRA blog is nonsense. Everyone knows nobody much reads them. Inaccuracies should have retractions and these should cover the same page, the same size of content and the same day of the week.

  7. Comment by Michael Heylin OBE posted on

    Like so much that comes out of Sir James Bevan's mouth the speech was a mishmash of fact and fable. e.g. needs teeth, including in tackling water companies which pollute our waters. He cited the £20m fine the Environment Agency secured against Thames Water. - sewage discharges licensed by the ?, Oh, that'll be the Environment Agency then. All teeth and no bite.