Rivers polluted 'beyond legal levels'

The bridge carries the B184 between Saffron Walden and Dunmow over the River Chelmer near Thaxted

The River Chelmer near Thaxted - Credit: Essex Highways

Uttlesford councillors are calling on the Government to make more river inspections after taking it upon themselves to test pollution levels, finding them to be "beyond legal limits".

Councillors Richard Pavitt and Judy Emmanuel said pollution in the River Cam and River Chelmer was likely to be from raw or partially treated sewage.

Concerns were raised over children playing in the rivers, especially during the warm summer months and on the threat to local wildlife.

Other councillors claimed private water companies were not monitoring the pollution levels themselves.

The district council will now write to the Environment Secretary George Eustice to ask for more funding for the Environment Agency, with the view to increase inspections of rivers, water recycling centres and the performance of water companies in Uttlesford.

Introducing the cross-party motion at a meeting on Wednesday, Cllr Pavitt  (Uttlesford Independents, Littlebury, Chesterford & Wenden Lofts) said: “Sample testing and visual reports indicate that these rivers are polluted beyond legal limits. 

“Local authorities need support to protect public health and river ecology.”

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The River Cam starts just south of the town of Newport and there is a sewage treatment works nearby in Water Lane.

Cllr Emmanuel (Residents for Uttlesford, Newport) said: “Richard and I went and tested the water quality south of the sewage treatment works and the water quality was good.

“We then went above the sewage treatment works and the figures were off the scale”.

Supporters of the motion also suggested other rivers passing through the district, such as the River Chelmer and Stebbing Brook, were similarly contaminated.

Councillor Christian Criscione (Con, Flitch Green and Little Dunmow) said pollution was not always visible, heightening the risk to those using the waters.

He said: “What they do not realise is, largely they cannot see the damage that they’re doing to themselves in the river then. You can’t see it with the naked eye.”

He continued to say the levels of contaminants were not being monitored by water companies.

Cllr Criscione said: “We need to know what we’re dealing with and we need to have the evidence to back up the need to enforce.”

According to council documents, Uttlesford is the watershed of three major river catchments.

These are Great Ouse, which includes the River Cam, Thames, which includes the River Roding and River Stort, and North Essex, which includes the River Chelmer and Stebbing Brook.

A copy of the letter will also be sent to local MP Kemi Badenoch (Con, Saffron Walden)