THE Environment Agency has responded to criticism that it is 'not fit for purpose' after a representative was unable to attend a meeting discussing how to protect the River Tyne from pollution. 

Wylam Clean Tyne Group organised the free live panel at Wylam Institute on February 10.

Dr Stephen Westgarth, chair of the Wylam Clean Tyne Group, said the event was well-attended and covered various issues relating to preserving the ecology of the river and how to protect it from pollution.

Hexham Courant: The Environment Agency's empty chair at the Clean Tyne Group panelThe Environment Agency's empty chair at the Clean Tyne Group panel (Image: Wylam Clean Tyne Group)

Representatives from Northumbrian Water sat on the panel, along with Wheelbirks Parlour owner and ex-chair of Northumberland's National Farmer's Union, Tom Richardson and Newcastle University Environmental Systems Modelling professor, David Werner.

An Environment Agency spokesperson was invited to sit on the panel but was unable to attend due to illness.

Dr Westgarth said: "There was widespread public dissatisfaction about the Environment Agency's lack of accountability about pollution in the Tyne. The EA is not fit for purpose." 

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The EA stated its representative offered to attend the panel virtually, but this was declined.

Rachael Caldwell, area environment manager for the Environment Agency in the North East, said: “Current regulations for rivers and open waters in England protect wildlife and are not designed for the protection of human health. The River Tyne has hugely improved water quality over the past 70 years, from being heavily polluted and devoid of life in the 1950s to becoming the top salmon river in the country to this day.

“We understand the increasing interest to use England’s rivers for recreation and we provide advice and guidance to individuals and groups interested in applying for bathing water status. It is unacceptable to still be seeing current levels of pollution across the country from multiple sources including sewage discharges, agriculture, highways and industry and we are holding polluters to account on a scale never seen before.

“Our officers carry out numerous inspections of local sewage works and farms along the Tyne and its catchment to ensure they are compliant with their permits to prevent pollution. Where there is evidence of non-compliance, or a pollution incident has occurred we will not hesitate to pursue the companies or individuals and take appropriate action.”

The EA added it is working to improve water quality in the Tyne by working with partner organisations on projects funded by Defra’s Water Environment Improvement Fund (WEIF).

These projects are to improve the water quality and ecological health of the River Tyne and its tributaries by reducing pollution and improving habitat conditions for wildlife.