Tiverton & Minehead candidates rally for environmental change

Candidates vying for the Tiverton & Minehead constituency have emphasised their commitment to addressing environmental issues and the state of local rivers.

The discussion occurred during an election husting held at Tiverton High School on June 19.

Frederick Keen, the Reform candidate, advocated for restoring water companies to government control.

He said: "I believe in free capitalism, but these water companies should be funded by the government and completely removed from the independent sector."

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He criticised the current system for prioritising shareholder profits over river investments and called for a national discussion on climate change. Although acknowledging climate change, he expressed scepticism about the feasibility of achieving net-zero targets without adequate infrastructure.

Labour candidate Jonathan Barter condemned the ongoing pollution of rivers, likening it to medieval practices.

"Our rivers are literally used to dump raw sewage," Mr Barter said, while highlighting the need for strict regulations and severe fines for failing water companies.

He spoke about Labour's commitment to public ownership of energy and a bold plan for GB Energy to transition the UK to clean energy by 2030.

"The world is literally burning, and we must have the political will to act," he declared.

Conservative candidate Ian Liddell-Grainger shared his frustration with water companies, especially South West Water, and supported the idea of public ownership.

He said: “With South West Water, I've been threatened with legal action at least five or six times by them for standing up in the House and not only personally attacking the chairman, the chief executive, just about everybody. I cannot understand why we can't get to grips the company down here.

"Water is too important," he said. Mr Liddell-Grainger underscored the importance of collaboration among various organisations to tackle climate issues. He pointed to recent achievements like a battery factory in Bridgwater and potential clean energy projects in Bristol Bay as steps towards sustainable development.

Liberal Democrat candidate Rachel Gilmour voiced concerns over the drastic decline in salmon populations and pollution levels, largely attributing it to South West Water.

“I've had meetings with local fishermen, including RETA and they tell me the most dreadful things,” she said. “In 2000 you could catch 2,000 salmon between the bridge in Exeter and Bolham Weir. In 2023 only two salmon were caught.”

She proposed a policy to award blue flags to clean rivers, similar to beach certifications. While supporting her party's stance on renationalisation, she expressed reservations about the government's financial capacity to manage water services effectively.

"We now have to talk about adaptation," Ms Gilmour stressed, advocating for proactive measures in line with international treaties to mitigate climate change impacts.

“The time for mitigation is over, that boat sailed about 20 years ago. We now have to talk about adaptation, which means leading from the front on the Paris Treaty; it means working with the UN High Seas Treaty to ensure that 30% of our oceans are protected by 2050.

“When I was at the Environment Agency, the shocking statistics on rivers were that by 2080, the water in the southeast rivers would have decreased by 75%. That is not drought; that is a disaster.”

Laura Buchanan the Green candidate was unable to attend the event.