Examination of witnesses (Questions 228-239)|
TUESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2001
228. Can I welcome you and would you introduce
yourselves for the record?
(Dr Mance) I am Director of Water Management
for the Environment Agency.
(Mr Griffiths) I am Head of Water Quality.
(Mr Williams) My role is to manage the implementation
of the abstraction licensing review.
229. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction?
(Dr Mance) If I may just take one minute, the Committee
will recall its Report in 1996 on Water Conservation and Supply
which made a set of forward-looking recommendations. These were
welcomed by the Agency, and I wanted to update you on three of
those, and flag a fourth. One is that each water company should
have a drought contingency plan approved by the Agency; these
are in place. Second was that there should be water resources
plans covering 25 years for every water company. These are in
place and we are in the first year of update and review of those,
and they have a 25-year horizon. Third was that there should be
a national water resources strategy developed and that is being
published in March of this yearagain, with a 25-year horizon.
The fourth was the clear recommendation that the 1963 legislation
on abstraction licensing needed major overhaul and updating. We
would suggest that climate change and the accumulating evidence
of it happening makes it ever more essential that the legislation
is updated so we have the flexibility to respond to changing rainfall,
river flows and groundwater patterns. The other issue for comment
is that nowhere has it been suggested that the existing framework
of duties on the Agency in relation to water resources would be
changed, which includes the duty to have regard to the needs or
the duties of the water undertakers.
230. What would the effects of the new regulatory
structures be on your ability to fulfil your duties?
(Dr Mance) We are very relaxed about this. We do not
see them impinging upon our own responsibilities or duties at
all. We think they are quite helpful and, if anything, build on
the lessons of the recent periodic review of water pricing and,
in part, start to pick up on the recommendations of the Environment
Audit Select Committee.
231. So you do not see any impact on your responsibility
for environmental issues?
(Dr Mance) No. They remain very clear as laid out
in the original legislation that created the Agency.
232. Would you say that the proposals put more
stress on consumers and prices rather than on the environment?
(Dr Mance) In relation to the Director General they
seek to clarify his responsibilities in relation to consumers
and, in that sense, they clearly do and that is why we have consistently
suggested that the Director General, as with other public bodies,
should have a duty to assist in the achievement of sustainable
developmentjust as the Agency does.
233. Do you see any conflict between the responsibilities
of the Environment Agency and Ofwat in the new proposals?
(Dr Mance) No. The legislative framework set up in
1989 when water was privatised provides clear separation of roles:
we believe that they got obscured in the first price review in
1993/4; we believe that in the most recent price review they were
clearly separated and we received very clear guidance from the
Secretary of State as to the environmental obligations they believed
were necessaryie, pace of change and its affordability
were traded-off by the Secretary of State, with clear guidance
to the Agency which we requested as the legislative framework
provides for. Nothing in this draft Bill changes that.
234. So does that mean you are satisfied with
the proposals in the draft Bill?
(Dr Mance) In relation to Ofwat, yes. We are very
relaxed about them. They do not have much impact on us at all.
235. And in relation to your responsibilities
to the Environment Agency?
(Dr Mance) In as much as there is a change of balance
of role between ourselves and the Director General and the Secretary
of State, again we are very relaxed. The Secretary of State already
has a power of direction over us in the original legislation creating
the Agency, and there is nothing in this draft legislation which
changes that balance or approach, as far as we can see.
236. And you feel there is sufficient emphasis
on environmental issues?
(Dr Mance) I do not think the legislation changes
the balance. We were comfortable with the balance during the periodic
review and I believe that the Environment Audit Select Committee
when it reviewed the periodic review came to that conclusion as
well. As long as we continue to operate the framework in a way
which recognises the distinctive roles, then we see no need for
further change and we do not believe the proposals here in relation
to the Director General change that balance.
237. Are you happy with the proposed powers
that the Bill will give you in relation to abstraction licensing?
(Mr Williams) Yes. In general we support the proposals
in the Bill. I would just make two comments: some of the proposals
that were in Taking Water Responsibly have not yet appeared in
the Bill and we do look to the Department to make sure those are
included in the Bill.
238. They are?
(Mr Williams) There are several proposals.
(Dr Mance) There is quite a long list which we can
provide to you. There are about ten or twelve items.
239. We would be happy to have it as a note.
(Mr Williams) We have included it in our main submission
to the Department. The other area I would comment on is the problem
that we foresee with the aspiration of the government to secure
conversion of permanent licences to time-limited status. The government
seem to be relying either on the voluntary approach, which we
consider is perhaps unrealistic, or the use of the Agency's existing
powers which rely on us making proposals to vary licences with
potential for appeal and potential for Lands Tribunal hearings
to do with compensation. If you think we might want to convert
about 20,000 licences, then that mechanism is clearly going to
clog up the system very quickly, and we think it would be unworkable.