Our local parliamentary candidates on flooding, sewage, voter apathy & more!

Our local parliamentary candidates on flooding, sewage, voter apathy & more!
The General Election will take place on Thursday 4th July

Ahead of the General Election on Thursday 4th July, I asked our local parliamentary candidates for their views on the subjects that I have written about in my Political Pulse articles.

In this piece, I will share the answers of the Conservative’s James Wild, Labour’s Tim Leaver, the Liberal Democrats’ Rob Colwell, Reform UK’s Phil Walton and the Green Party’s Michael de Whalley.

In April, I wrote about the approval of plans for a mega-incinerator in Wisbech. Since that article, a temporary ban on new incinerators was implemented by the government, but on the 24th of May this ban was lifted. I asked our local candidates, “if elected, do you have any suggestions for improved local waste management schemes, such as recycling, to lessen the need for the incinerator?”

Wild answered, “Having campaigned against the Wisbech incinerator and spoken against it in Parliament, I am very pleased with the commitment in the Conservative manifesto to preventing new waste incinerators being built. That includes revoking the permit for sites including Wisbech where there has been a recent approval.”

Leaver said, “I am not convinced that all objections to the proposed incinerator have been exhausted, but if they have we must lobby those involved to ensure emissions are as clean as possible. Additional cost should be borne by the owners MVV Environment Ltd. To improve waste management, we have to avoid waste in the first place. We should tackle excessive packaging; encourage the adoption of subsidised glass return and invest in improving the UK's recycling industry.”

Colwell’s opinion was “Increased recycling rates are central to waste management schemes. Whilst dealing with residual waste efficiently and in a way which does not adversely impact climate change is a highly technical issue I am not yet persuaded that the incinerator proposed for Wisbech will not have adverse knock-on effects on local air quality.”

Walton answered, “If elected, I would focus on expanding the scope of recyclable materials and improving the accessibility of recycling services, facilitating community-driven composting initiatives, launching targeted educational campaigns, providing support and incentives for businesses and households that implement zero-waste strategies and advocating for a reassessment of existing waste management policies to align them more closely with sustainability goals.”

De Whalley said, “I have campaigned tirelessly against waste incineration since 2010. I set up the successful KLWIN campaign to oppose waste incineration in favour of more sustainable solutions. I have been working with the Wisbech campaign from its inception. New legislation can be expedited and improved to put greater responsibility on manufactures to reduce waste and to have nationally coordinated recycling. We can make better decisions about the things we buy and choose to repair. If it’s not possible to compost food waste then we can use the very effective food waste collection service provided by the Borough Council.”

May’s edition of The Political Pulse discussed the impact and potential cause of local flooding events. I asked our candidates how they would support households affected by these events.

Wild responded, “As the MP, I helped many people unable to use their toilets, washing machines, or who had sewage coming up in their gardens in manhole covers in the roads. I will build on my previous work to make sure the local council, water companies, and others work better together to fix the problems, provide faster welfare support, and reduce the risk of future flooding.”

Leaver commented, “Labour’s planned flood resilience task force could work with our local Borough and County councils, and emergency services to protect our local villages, communities and our local economy from the impact of flood damage. This means managing water fall and water flow. Where possible we should support households to sympathetically adapt existing buildings and should examine what changes are needed to our roads and public spaces.

Colwell said “In some cases increased provision of sustainable drainage schemes and additional flood plains are needed. In other cases, improved sewage and drainage infrastructure may help protect homes likely to be impacted. National government must fund our Environment Agency properly and allow them proper budgets. It is also important to ensure that new homes are not built in areas likely to be flooded in future. As a last resort, however, it is the responsibility of the community through the various government agencies involved to ensure that individual households are fully compensated if they are adversely affected by flooding.”

Walton answered, “Initially, I would advocate for increased funding and support for local emergency response teams to ensure they are fully equipped and ready to provide prompt assistance during flooding. I would push for the development of a comprehensive flood management plan. This would involve upgrading drainage systems, maintaining and enhancing flood barriers, and investing in sustainable urban planning that anticipates future climate scenarios. I intend to establish a community fund specifically designed to assist those who suffer damage to their homes and properties due to flooding.”

De Whalley said, “Hardship funds have been made available to the most vulnerable of those affected. Cross agency groups have been formed to help overcome the risk future flooding. The water companies should pay compensation to those affected by inadequate infrastructure. The biggest problem, if we listen to the scientists, is climate change, the warmer the planet becomes the more moisture is held in the atmosphere. Rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions combined with a programme of risk assessment and adaptation is necessary to avoid the worst of what is to come.

Since May’s edition of Town & Around, Anglian Water have been convicted of failing to supply key information on their sewage spill data to the Environment Agency. I asked our candidates, if they are elected, what would they do to ensure Anglian Water are held to account and our rivers and seas are not further polluted without the appropriate evaluation?

Wild said, “Protecting our precious chalk streams and coastal waters is a priority for me. I’ve campaigned for tough action to increase investment on a scale not seen before thanks to the introduction of 100% monitoring of storm overflows, tougher penalties on water companies, and stopping them taking dividends if they pollute our rivers. If re-elected I’ll make sure water companies invest to improve water quality, hold regulators to account to use the tough new enforcement powers, and will keep pressing for further improvements at Heacham.”

Leaver noted, “The water bosses responsible for this horrific failure awarded themselves bonuses and incentives worth £25m. Labour will stop the bonuses, tackle failing water companies, and protect our beautiful holiday spots. Labour will end self-monitoring. Companies will have to monitor every single water outlet under independent supervision so no more illegal sewage dumping cover-ups. Companies will face severe and automatic fines for illegal sewage discharges.”

Colwell commented, “As a county councillor I have already done a considerable amount of work holding Anglian Water to account for failing to prevent sewage spills. I have undertaken private e. Coli testing on local chalk streams and the sea at Heacham and Hunstanton. I will continue my fight to demand that bonuses for water company bosses are banned until discharges and leaks end. I will campaign for a Sewage Tax on water company profits. I have been campaigning for Ofwat to be replaced with a tougher new regulator. I believe that water companies should be transformed into public benefit companies.”

Walton said, “If elected, I am committed to ensuring full accountability for such breaches. I would advocate for enhanced oversight and stricter enforcement of environmental regulations. This would include supporting measures that mandate real-time data sharing between water companies and the Environment Agency to ensure transparency and prompt responses to potential environmental threats. Furthermore, I would push for tougher penalties for non-compliance that reflect the severity of the damage caused to the environment and our local communities. Additionally, I will strive to secure ongoing investment in our environmental agencies, enabling them to carry out more frequent and comprehensive inspections of water companies.”

De Whalley said the problem is due to “all our public utilities we sold off to become private companies”, as “they appear to have borrowed money to pay off shareholder bonuses whilst failing to invest anywhere near adequately in the network.” He added, “The answer is that they need to be brought back into public ownership so the money is invested in infrastructure and not handed out to shareholders. In addition the Environment Agency needs to reformed so that it has both the teeth and funding to be effective.”

Last month’s edition of The Political Pulse was based on the proposed Wash Tidal Barrier, a highly contentious £3bn development. I asked our local candidates if they believe that the proposal is a good or bad thing for North West Norfolk.

Wild answered, “The Wash is one of the most important habitats in Europe and rightly has many special designations to protect it. I’ve met the RSPB at Snettisham to talk about the damaging impact a barrier could have. Nothing I have seen addresses the major concerns that have been raised about the impact on the environment and as it stands I would not support it.”

Leaver said, “There’s no simple answer, but I am highly sceptical. The £3bn budget does not seem credible, when the abandoned Severn barrier was projected to cost £35 billion fifteen years ago. It could affect tidal patterns and ocean currents. We must have clean energy as we strive for carbon neutrality, but we must not destroy the environment or our beautiful coastline.”

Colwell added, “A Wash Tidal Barrier would be no less than environmental vandalism. The Wash is a protected nature reserve of global importance and must be protected at all costs. The precious habitat cannot be recreated. This means not just preventing the Wash Barrier but stepping up our efforts to prevent climate change which also threatens both the Wash and the surrounding communities because of rising sea levels.”

Walton said, “This ambitious project holds the promise of generating enough energy to power 600,000 homes, creating 1,200 jobs, and potentially handling up to four million containers annually. Such developments could significantly boost our local economy and provide numerous employment opportunities. Additionally, the barrier would play a crucial role as a flood defence mechanism. However, the environmental ramifications are a significant concern. My priority would be to ensure that all facets of the project are thoroughly scrutinised and that comprehensive environmental impact assessments are undertaken. The community deserves a transparent process that incorporates their input and addresses the concerns of local conservation experts and residents who will face the long-term consequences of these decisions.”

De Whalley commented, “Unfortunately, the proposers of this scheme have provided very little information of substance about it, and much of it highly questionable. This has caused considerable alarm amongst many in the community. The Wash is highly protected. Under new Biodiversity Net Gain regulations, I cannot see with the scanty information before me, how the proposed barrage will demonstrate an improvement in biodiversity. The suggested outcome from many of those who have the most interest in the Wash is that it will be absolutely devastating.”

In my first edition of The Political Pulse, I discussed voter apathy and tactical voting. I asked our candidates what they would say to those who feel apathetic to politics.

Leaver commented, “If you want a change of government, the only tactic that will work in North West Norfolk is a vote for Labour. No other Party can help to deliver that change. We politicians are not all the same. Your vote matters. If you don’t vote, you lose your chance to have a say in your future. You will be left with someone else’s choice. There is a real chance now to change Britain for the better. If you want change, vote for it.”

Colwell answered, "The Liberal Democrats have won all three of the county by-elections held in previously Conservative-held divisions in the last three years. In each case over half the Conservative vote switched to the Liberal Democrats. I therefore think the election in North West Norfolk will be a very close contest between me and the Conservative candidate and would therefore welcome tactical support to defeat the Conservative candidate from Independent, Labour and Green supporters.” On voter apathy, he added, “With the D-Day celebrations fresh in our memories and an ongoing war by Putin against our European democratic values I would gently remind those apathetic to politics that many people have died and many are still dying to ensure that we have the right to vote. We owe it to those who laid down their lives to use that vote.”

Walton said, “It's vital to consider what you're genuinely endorsing with your vote. Tactical voting can sometimes mean sacrificing your own values and the issues most important to you. Instead, I encourage you to vote based on what you truly believe. Supporting a candidate who aligns with your principles helps to strengthen the presence and impact of those ideals in our political discourse. It sends a clear message about the issues you want addressed.” He also noted, “It’s vital to remember that every vote and every voice can truly make a difference. Our democratic system thrives on participation. Reform UK aim to transform politics into something that is not only accessible but also directly accountable to you. Your involvement is essential for change.”

De Whalley answered, “This election is most likely to see a seismic shift in the political makeup at Westminster. No seat is safe. Common sense dictates that if you don’t vote for who you want to represent you, because they might not win, then you won’t get them elected. Then again, if the dominant candidate is truly against everything you stand for, well I would understand.” He urges constituents, “Please Vote. Decisions made in the next parliament will have the greatest impact on the youngest people who are also the least likely to vote. Much voter apathy is around how politicians conduct themselves. Green politics is about positive campaigning and working across the political divide to overcome the challenges we face. Make your voice heard and make sure the politicians pay attention.”

On voter apathy, Wild said, “Everyone I meet has views on their local area. That’s the essence of what politics is about - what happens locally, how much money we spend on schools, hospitals, police and other public services, protecting our environment, and how much tax you pay. I would encourage people to get involved and use their vote that was hard won.”

Thank you to North West Norfolk’s parliamentary candidates for taking the time to answer my questions.

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