Opinion: ‘Striving for a cleaner environment’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council, writes...

Sunday, 31st October 2021, 3:15 pm
River pollution Photo: Shutterstock

One of the arguments for Brexit was that we were being held back by the European Union; apparently the EU wasn’t allowing government to pro-actively intervene in the economy and other spheres.

The theory goes that we could have higher environmental standards post-Brexit than beforehand.

We have run into the limits of that thesis. Labour MPs recently voted to stop water companies from dumping raw sewage into our rivers and coastal waters. The Conservatives voted to allow them to continue.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Conservatives won this vote; only 22 Tory MPs rebelled. Our 
local MP was not one of them.

European Union regulations forbade this; the UK government was in breach of these rules prior to our departure. Now that we have left, we are apparently free to turn back the clock to an era in which we dump effluent into our beloved 
waterways without hesitation.

This is an odd prelude to Britain hosting the COP 26 conference, which is intended to address our climate crisis and instil policies which show a greater sensitivity in dealing with the natural world. If we say to developing nations that we want them to stop carbon emissions, they can rightly point out our reluctance to keep our own environment clean on the basis of cost.

In this scenario, hypocrisy matters: how can we ask others to follow our example when we aren’t providing a particularly good one?

Visitors coming to Peterborough still see signs which state we are building the UK’s environment capital. It’s time to ask how that is going: we have had a solar panel programme which saddled us with debt. Public transport is nowhere near sufficient to help stem the flow of carbon emissions. We now have a local MP that appears to have limited care for water pollution. Perhaps people should be forgiven for treating our title as an environmental capital with a sense of scepticism.

Fixing the environment can be expensive. However, it’s a question of when one wants to pay. If we pollute without restraint, we will have to clean it up later on. Raw sewage in our waterways can destroy tourism as well as health: who pays for the bailouts for coastal towns when their industries are impacted? How much will it cost?

If we continue to not invest in public transport, how much do we pay for repairing roads that are torn up by additional wear and tear? How much will it cost to reduce carbon emissions other ways, say, via a scrappage scheme?

If we don’t find a means by which we can continue the solar panel programme, how many more energy costs will be loaded on to Peterborough residents that could have been avoided? And how will that electricity be generated?

As a businessman, I often find it’s best to front-load costs to avoid higher charges later. We are going to have to clean up the mess we have made of our environment. It cannot be voted away. We should face it sooner rather than later.