Protecting our beautiful and unique landscape here in north Northumberland is an issue close to my heart. Our rivers, waterways and beaches are a key part of that landscape – such as Bamburgh beach, my kids’ favourite! It’s great that British bathing waters are already getting cleaner – with 93% now good or excellent, up from 76% in 2010 – but there’s more to do.
Not only are our water resources a vital part of our national heritage, but it's more important than ever to ensure that we have access to clean and plentiful water too. Through investment and regulation, significant improvements have already been made, leakage has been reduced by a third through since privatisation, and we are the first Government to start comprehensively monitoring storm overflows – from 10% in 2015 to 100% by the end of this year.
The health and resilience of our vital water systems to our local community is critical for consumers, farmers and businesses, so I'm excited to share the latest on our comprehensive effort to protect and improve them.
Last year I visited Northumbrian Water’s Treatment Works at Embleton to see the new tertiary treatment plant being installed, helping improve the quality of rivers and coastal waters like Embleton Burn. In January, we brought in a new law mandating our water companies to clean up our rivers.
I'm thrilled that the Government has now published a new ‘Plan for Water’, which builds on these achievements and brings together actions to address every source of pollution, from agriculture to road run-off. It also outlines steps to secure a plentiful supply of water for the future, including streamlining the planning process for water infrastructure and securing new investment.
Great news is the creation of a new Water Restoration Fund, which will use money from water company fines to support local projects that restore habitats and protect our water systems.
We have had approval for a project to improve river and bathing waters in and around Berwick-upon-Tweed. The project will reduce spills from storm overflows at Tweedmouth and Spittal by 2030 with a £50 million investment. This is one of 31 accelerated delivery investment schemes led by Ofwat.
Meanwhile more widely in Parliament, last month’s Budget brought more good news for our local area too. The expansion of 30 hours of free childcare per week to children aged 9 months to 4 years old, the increased hourly rates paid to providers and the introduction of childminders grants will all help support families and allow parents to take up more work if they wish.
Finally, with our miles of roads here in Northumberland, the extra £3.9 million announced for Northumberland County Council to fix potholes – on top of the £9.7 million a year they were already getting for potholes – is very welcome news!