Turning the pollution tide

AS the Government's deficit reduction plans take shape, there has inevitably been a focus on the imposition of yesterday's VAT increase. The impact on household incomes will be one of the political dividing lines of 2011.

Less clearcut, however, is how the spending squeeze will impact on those aspects of policy that have the potential to add great "value" to Yorkshire's aesthetic appeal of a country – the "green and pleasant land" immortalised by William Blake's Jerusalem.

National parks have not been spared, even though their running costs are outstripped by the revenue that they generate for the Treasury's coffers through tourism. Equally, the same applies to rivers – another priceless asset that is seeing its funding sources dry up.

Inland waterways continue to provide untold pleasure to millions of people each year, even those once-neglected rivers that were so heavily polluted by manufacturers and heavy industries. It is why the return of spawning salmon to the River Don, as far upstream as Doncaster, shows the benefits of a cleaner environment.

However, the optimism of the Environment Agency, when it published its own statistics last week, is punctuated by the fact that a quarter of all rivers and waterways in Yorkshire are still suffering from serious pollution, despite two decades of painstaking work to reverse the damage inflicted by the region's industrial heritage.

This legacy is not consigned to urban areas – three stretches of river passing through the iconic Yorkshire Dales National Park are among those still rated as "poor".

Fewer than one in six rivers, locally, were rated as "good" and in line with new EU targets. This is worrying. For, while the European Union's water quality directive provides a focus for environmental improvements, and some urgency, it is difficult to see how the UK will comply when so many rivers are falling foul of its rules – and this is before the Government imposes a 20 per cent budget cut.

Of course, efficiencies have to be made. Equally, Ministers need to realise that a pollution-free natural environment is one of this country's greatest assets – and any investment will be rewarded with increased revenue from tourists and day-trippers.