Evidence produced by Channel 4 News shows how, at the same time then environment secretary Thérèse Coffey was promising improvements in water quality of the River Deben in Suffolk, she was colluding with the Environment Agency to mislead the public as to progress.
Thérèse Coffey visited Woodbridge, in her own Suffolk Coastal constituency, on 10 August last. Joining her were her water minister Rebecca Pow and representatives of the Environment Agency. According to a press release from the Department for the Environment, she was there “to raise concerns and explore solutions to improve the health and sustainability of the river and to discuss delivery of the Plan for Water, which will bring increased investment, tougher enforcement and tighter regulation to the water sector”.
Coffey and Environment Agency plan to disregard tests
Yet in a letter dated 18 August, a week later, chief executive of the Environment Agency Philip Duffy wrote to Dr Coffey explaining how issuing ‘no bathing warnings’ legally allowed the agency to disregard bathing water test results. He went on to say they “play a major part in building the overall macro narrative of an upward trend in bathing water”.
The letter suggests changing the language used to “adopt more positive descriptors”, replacing ‘Pollution Risk’ with ‘water quality’ forecasts.
The letter discloses that the two had met to discuss these issues on 25 July, three weeks before Dr Coffey’s Woodbridge visit. So at the time that she arrived for her photo op by the River Deben, she was already involved in plans to mislead the public.
Coffey embarrassed by protestors’ own test results
The letter ends: “I would welcome your feedback on next steps, and any further areas where you feel further thought is required”. This seems to suggest that the original impetus to present action on water quality in a more positive light came from Dr Coffey.
DEFRA and the EA refute any suggestion of collusion, claiming that no changes were made to the ‘no bathing’ warning system and that the agency had complied fully with legal requirements.
Save the Deben campaigners have led the way in demanding a clean-up of our rivers. Over 300 people turned up at an inaugural open air meeting in Woodbridge in September 2022, and since then they have been active in showing the extent of the pollution. It was after the group had embarrassed Coffey by carrying out scientific tests on river quality that she was driven to be photographed by Martlesham Creek, explaining that most of the pollution was caused by the excreta of wading birds on the foreshore.
Coverage in East Anglia Bylines of the local protestors’ tests
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