An MP has hit back after she was accused of talking down on the work of volunteers and ‘misleading’ the public as she campaigns to clean the River Wear.
Durham City MP Mary Kelly Foy has raised concern over the condition of the weirs in the city, excessive amounts of duckweed, and the large build-up of rubbish trapped along them.
Dead fish and birds, traffic cones, litter and bicycle wheels have all been seen floating in the river by residents and tourists despite the council conducting daily litter picks along the river.
Initial reports of green algae also on the river have been disputed, however, with locals instead saying it is large amounts of duck weed.
But despite being informed that Durham council was seeking a license from the Environment Agency to carry out the work on the River Wear, Ms Foy MP said no progress has seemingly been made.
Now, a local councillor in charge of neighbourhood services across the county has launched a scathing attack, urging the Labour MP to stop misleading the public and to support and recognise work done by council staff.
Liberal Democrat councillor Mark Wilkes said: “It is really disappointing that our MP is continually seeking to undermine our city and the incredible work our staff do to keep it and our riverbanks clean.”
Councillor Wilkes, who represents Framwellgate and Newton Hall, said more work is going on to keep the river clean than at any time under the previous Labour administration.
Supporting council staff, Cllr Wilkes said, “Under Labour the council did hardly any work on the river, now on my instruction we have staff using nets to fish out rubbish regularly and the riverbanks are being litter picked daily.
Cllr Wilkes also sought to stop the MP from scaremongering over green and blue algae saying, “The vast majority of the green material in the river is actually duck weed and similar plants, which is eaten by wildlife and grows more quickly during dryer hotter weather. It will wash downstream as more heavy rain comes down.”
“We are deep cleaning the city, repairing the mess left by Labour, clearing rubbish out of the the river all the time, and shortly will be clearing the weir of debris once we have approval for a new otter resting place.”
The councillor also confirmed hat the joint administration running the council had created a permanent budget to regularly keep on top of debris on the weir, despite it not being their responsibility.
In response to the Liberal Democrat’s comments Ms Foy said she found the comments “perplexing if not a little disappointing”.
“It's absolutely mystifying to me that Cllr Wilkes should suggest I am ‘seeking to undermine our city’ as I specifically contacted him to outline how I wanted to work together to try and deal with this situation, she added.
“Sadly, it appears that Cllr Wilkes would rather talk about the issues he has with the previous Labour administration than work towards a solution
“Cllr Wilkes also seems very keen to point out that it isn’t the responsibility of the Coalition to deal with the river. Perhaps he may wish to check in with his officers, as they may be able to inform him that the Environment Agency has outlined to them that the responsibility of maintaining the weirs is that of the owner – in this case Durham County Council. It seems odd that he isn’t privy to key information that his officers are.”
Durham County Council said it has operated a monthly cleanse of the river using long handled nets and collection by volunteers utilising boats for the last eight months.
The authority is awaiting approval from Natural England for a license to clear larger debris from the river without disturbing its resident otter, which it anticipates will be granted soon.
Ms Foy MP remains committed to cleabing up the river and improving the city centre’s image for residents and tourists alike.
She said: “I’ve offered my support on several occasions and would be delighted to work with the council to try and move this matter forward. I’m simply not interested in playing politics with an issue that affects so many people, not to mention wildlife, in the constituency and beyond.
“If he isn’t prepared to work collaboratively, Cllr Wilkes should rest assured that I will continue to work with all other parties concerned to ensure constructive progress is made, and I will continue to raise this issue nationally in Parliament on behalf of my constituents.”