Foy campaign for cleaner River Wear in Durham has success


The City of Durham MP, Mary Foy, has been working over the last couple of months on her “Clear the Wear” campaign. The Labour MP is now in contact with Durham University on the matter.

Since Palatinate explained Foy’s campaign in edition 852, there has been significant progress. Natural England have granted Durham County Council permission to remove debris, meaning that the MP is “hopeful that after raising this issue repeatedly with the Council, Government, Environment Agency and Natural England for the last twelve months that work will soon take place.”

In August, Mary wrote to the Durham County Council Cabinet member for Neighbourhoods and Climate Change, Cllr Mark Wilkes of the Liberal Democrats, asking for urgent action to be taken to clean up the River Wear.

In the letter, Foy said: “Following shocking reports relating to the vast amount of sewage being dumped into rivers and seas around the UK, I am writing to you again to express further concerns relating to the current state of the River Wear.”

Foy appeared to be concerned about the effect that the river was having on tourism in the local community: “I have been told on numerous occasions now, by visitors to Durham, that their opinion of our beautiful city was tarnished due to the state of the River Wear.”

Foy also remarked: “I’m sure that you will understand my concerns have been exacerbated since I’ve found that raw sewage is dumped into 92 different sites in my constituency of the City of Durham alone.” When contacted for comment, Foy’s team confirmed that this statistic was from the website ‘Top of the Poops’.

On the 6th September, Foy raised the issue in the House of Commons, saying “Water companies must clean up their act. Last year, Northumbrian Water allowed 615 days’ worth of raw sewage to be dumped into rivers at 92 sites across Durham, including the Wear, the Browney and the Deerness, making a lovely home for the dead ducks, the traffic cones, and the used drug kits filling up the Wear.”

Jeff Talbot, Durham County Council’s clean and green manager, said: “We carry out daily litter picks along the riverbanks to ensure the River Wear is a clean and attractive place for residents and visitors.

“We also carry out a monthly cleanse of the river using long handled nets and collection by volunteers utilising boats, which is a scheme that has taken place for the last eight months.

“We are currently awaiting approval from Natural England for a license to clear larger debris from the river without disturbing its resident otter, and we anticipate this to be granted soon.”

“Last year, Northumbrian Water allowed 615 days’ worth of raw sewage to be dumped into rivers at 92 sites across Durham”

mary foy mp

Since being contacted by Foy, Wilkes has 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.”

Foy responded: “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”

The day after making contact Cllr Wilkes in August, Foy wrote to Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, demanding that action is taken to clean up the Wear: “There are many walks which run alongside the Wear which provide an escape from city life and it is disappointing that what is generally expected to be a peaceful and pleasant walk is often ruined by the state of the river.”

Towards the end of her message, Foy conveyed the following: “I am aware that Durham County Council was applying for a licence from the Environment Agency to be able to clear the weirs, particularly those which are now residence to otters.

“I would appreciate reassurances that this licence will be granted soon, and that further advice will be offered to the council about the work which can be carried out to improve the condition of River Wear for residents and visitors to the city alike – not to mention the myriad of wildlife that the river is home to.”

In a message posted on Instagram on the 21st September, Foy said: “When it comes to the huge tasks of arranging for work to happen on improving the state of the River Wear, it’s really important to understand “who” is responsible for “what”.

“I was grateful to representatives from the regional team of the Environment Agency who gave up some of their valuable time yesterday to speak with me. I was heartened to hear that, although the council retains responsibility for clearing the weir at Framwellgate Bridge, the Environment Agency has offered to advise and assist in a support role. I hope that this means we will see some positive developments soon.

“I’m now in touch with Durham University in relation to the weirs at Old Fulling Mill so I’ll know more about clearance plans for that part of the river later this week. I’ll also be reaching out to Durham Cathedral today to hear more about their efforts to support the maintenance of the riverbanks too. 

“Up to £500,000 of this is potentially urgent work and we are now working on funding for this important project”

cllr mark wilkes

“On Friday I’ll be meeting with volunteers from the Durham City Riverscape Community group to discuss the invaluable work they do in maintaining the Wear and riverbanks and to find out how I can best support their efforts going forward.

“It is clear that a joined up approach is needed to solve this issue for Durham residents, visitors to the city – not forgetting the wildlife that the river is habitat to.

“I’ll work with everyone it takes to make sure the Wear is restored to a more appropriate state all year round – not just ahead of Lumiere or City of Culture bids.”

On the 1st October, The Northern Echo announced that following their campaign alongside Foy to clean the river, Durham County Council will start work this month to remove the plastic, bottles and food wrappers from the waterway after the authority was given permission by Natural England.

Councillor Mark Wilkes, the council’s portfolio holder for neighbourhoods and climate change, said: “A failure to carry out regular maintenance work over many decades means that the weir has been extensively damaged.

“We are looking at somewhere in the region of £1.5 million of work being required. Up to £500,000 of this is potentially urgent work and we are now working on funding for this important project.”

Responding to the news of the clean up, Foy said: “It will be welcome news for residents, environmental groups and volunteers who have contacted me to express their discontent with the state of the River Wear that this work will now take place.”


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One thought on “Foy campaign for cleaner River Wear in Durham has success

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