Environment Secretary holds roundtable to drive forward improvements in River Deben

Action to improve the River Deben discussed at roundtable, part of a series of local meetings following government’s Plan for Water

The River Deben in Suffolk, England.

  • Action to improve the River Deben discussed at roundtable meeting following government’s Plan for Water
  • Local community, environment and farming groups join the Secretary of State and Water Minister to discuss solutions
  • Meeting part of a series of local discussions on water quality to drive further action at catchment level

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey and Water Minister Rebecca Pow met with local community groups, environmental regulators, farming representatives, water company representatives and local councillors in Suffolk today (Thursday 10 August 2023) to discuss actions to improve the River Deben.

The roundtable, chaired by the Secretary of State and the Water Minister, provided a forum for local partners to raise concerns and explore solutions to improve the health and sustainability of the river and to discuss delivery of the Plan for Water, which will bring increased investment, tougher enforcement and tighter regulation to the water sector.

Key areas of discussions included the designation of bathing sites in the area; pollution resulting from storm overflows, wastewater treatment and agriculture and  water resources. They also covered how these issues may be addressed through river catchment plans, targeting actions where they will deliver the greatest impact for water quality, flood management, and nature recovery. Ongoing work by Defra, the Environment Agency and partners to maintain and improve water quality along the river, and protect nationally significant saltmarsh habitats in the Deben Estuary was also discussed.

Action on the ground includes using farm visits, undertaken through the Catchment Sensitive Farming Initiative led by Natural England, to check compliance with all the relevant farming regulations. Government funding for the programme has increased to £30 million a year so that all farms across the UK can access advice and support. Guidance is also being offered to locals who are not connected to the mains sewer on how to ensure that their systems are functional, legal and maintained properly.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said:

"As someone who enjoys spending time by the River Deben, I share the passion for protecting and enhancing its waters shown by our partners today.

"One of the key parts of our Plan for Water is tailored long-term catchment plans with new funding for catchment groups. For this to succeed collaboration at a local level is vital so we can all work towards improving the water system together."

Water Minister Rebecca Pow said:

"It is clear the River Deben is a precious habitat for many in the community but it is under pressure.

"River water quality must improve and our new Plan for Water sets out how increased investment, tougher enforcement and tighter regulation is helping tackle every source of river pollution."

“At the Deben, I look forward to seeing greater collaboration from all parties locally as this is also vital if water quality is to improve.”

The meeting is part of a series of local conversations to improve water quality and increase water supply at rivers across England. Roundtable attendees included representatives from local councils, Essex & Suffolk Rivers Trust, the NFU, Natural England, the River Deben Association, and Anglian Water. At the meeting, the Environment Secretary highlighted the importance of addressing individual river catchments in light of their own specific challenges and contexts – while maintaining a holistic approach to improving river health across the country.

It follows the recent announcement that a stretch of the river at Waldringfield has achieved designated bathing water status the meeting also reflected on recent updates to the designated bathing water site guidance. The past decade has seen significant progress in improving bathing water quality at existing sites, thanks to robust regulation and strong investment - 93% of bathing waters in England met the highest standards of ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ in 2022, up from just 76% in 2010.

In April, the Government published its Plan for Water, marking a step-change in how our water system is managed. As part of the Plan, government will improve delivery and coordination at a catchment level with tailored long-term catchment plans that cover all water bodies. Catchment plans will set out the key issues and priorities for action, including priorities identified in Local Nature Recovery Strategies. We have also increased the number of storm overflows monitored across the network to 91% from 7% in 2010. The actions in the Plan will deliver a safe, reliable, resilient supply of clean and plentiful water for our homes, businesses, for leisure and for wildlife that rely on it.

To hold water companies to account, the Government has set strict new targets for water companies designed to frontload action in particularly important areas, like bathing waters and protected sites. Our Storm Overflows Reduction Plan will also require the largest infrastructure programme in water company history - £56 billion capital investment over 25 years. The Water Minister will continue to engage with Anglian Water after the roundtable to drive further improvements in this area.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Rebecca Pow MP
The Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP