FEARS over alleged pollution in the rivers Arle and Itchen have been raised in the House of Lords.

Lord Vinson submitted a written question asking the government what steps they intend to take to safeguard the chalk stream from threats of pollution and abstraction.

As reported in the Chronicle, residents are worried that the river near Alresford is threatened by chemicals entering the water through salad-washing.

But Bakkavor, who run Alresford Salads, disputes the claims.

Alresford Town Council has said it is talking to the company to arrange a meeting.

Council chairman Margot Power, speaking in a personal capacity, said: “I have objected to this application on the grounds that we have seen an immense decline in both quality and quantity of river life in our section of the Arle over the last 20 years. In my view, until it can be shown that this is not due to the content of any such discharge all such discharge should be halted.”

A petition with more than 5,000 signatures states the aim is, “to stop the renewal licence allowing Bakkavor to dump their factory’s daily trade effluent containing a cocktail of potentially harmful chemicals into the head waters of the River Itchen”.

The company has applied to vary a permit, but the details are currently unavailable from the Environment Agency. At present, the application is only available from the agency’s office in Worthing.

The Chronicle asked Bakkavor what chemicals were involved in the permit renewal application, and it responded in a statement: “Bakkavor takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and we are proud of our record of ensuring the highest levels of environmental safety across our business.

“The petition started in relation to our permit renewal application to the Environment Agency contains misleading inaccuracies.

“Our Alresford Salads site is committed to washing all leaf product in non-chlorinated water and any water discharged from the site is filtered and treated to ensure it meets the exacting standards of the Environment Agency.

“We are happy to engage with the community on this issue to reassure them.”

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “Protecting the environment is at the forefront of our decision-making, and we take local concerns very seriously. Firms and private individuals with permits must meet the conditions set out in them. Safeguarding the area in and around rivers not an optional extra for them.

“The agency regularly monitors the release of waste water into the Itchen by Bakkavor Foods, as well as checking the river in general. The condition of this stretch of the Itchen is good or high, to a European standard. Research in 2017 showed fish and invertebrates numbers just a kilometre from Bakkavor as very high.

“We will continue to work with the company and others to improve the quality of the Itchen further.

“We are currently reviewing an application made by Bakkavor to vary its discharge permit, and we will take a number of factors into account before a final decision is made.”

Residents say they believe the river wildlife is declining because salad leaves are sprayed with chemicals abroad before being imported, which gets washed into the river.

Victoria Harrison from Ovington said: “It really is a problem. A lot of people are really worried about the state of the river because there are no fish left, or hardly any. It is not right.”

Nick Measham, campaigns manager at Salmon and Trout Conservation, said: “The solution would have been simple – the Environment Agency could have forced Alresford Salads to connect to the mains sewer as its competitor, Vitacress, does on the Bourne Rivulet. It would have cost money, of course, but it would have protected this once-famous river.” from potential chemical pollution from the salad washing plant, and that, surely, is the priority for an environmental regulator?

“This decision is astounding in 21st century UK. It shouldn’t matter that the Itchen is one of our high profile chalkstreams – chemical discharge should not be allowed into any watercourse.”