Examination of witnesses (Questions 316-339)|
TUESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2001
316. Can I welcome you to the last session this
morning and could I ask you to identify yourselves for the record?
(Mr Marsden) I am James Marsden. I am
General Manager with English Nature with specific responsibility
for sustainable development and freshwater policy.
(Ms Giacomelli) I am Alison Giacomelli. I am Freshwater
Policy Officer in English Nature.
317. Do either of you want to say anything by
way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight into
(Mr Marsden) By all means go straight into questions.
318. Does the Bill represent a good deal for
the environment at the expense of water users?
(Mr Marsden) We feel that there are ways in which
the Bill could be improved to better reflect the impact on the
environment. There are some duties that could be placed on some
of the proposed new bodies, that is, the Panel and the Council,
that would help. We feel also that attention to licences of right
would help, particularly where they have been operating since
prior to 1963.
319. What about the balance? Do you think that
is right between the social and environmental aspects?
(Mr Marsden) We would say that the true environmental
cost of water is still not being paid by the consumer and that
we need to be very careful in bringing in the Bill to ensure that
there is adequate safeguard for the environment while at the same
time addressing the issue of price in a way that is fair and reasonable
to the consumer.
320. If we only concentrateand it is
vitally important that we do concentrateon environmental
aspects, and do not pay sufficient regard to, say, social concerns
and the bills of customers, what problems do you then envisage?
(Mr Marsden) Very specifically there are, we estimate,
sites of special scientific interest affected by abstraction and
a considerable number of those were picked up under AMP 3, the
Asset Management Programme 3, but equally a large number were
not. Forty six
were not included in AMP 3. We will certainly be addressing that
in the AMP 4 process with the Director General of Ofwat. We need
to be very clear also that the drive on price does not impact
on water authorities' ability to implement those existing agreed
schemes and investigations because there is a risk that it might.
321. Can you put a little bit of detail on that
(Mr Marsden) Yes. The potential we think is there
that we have got an agreed asset management programme, a number
of special designated sites within it. A number of the schemes
and investigations are already later than we would wish to have
seen. The longer we wait for those schemes to be implemented the
greater the damage that will take place to these special sites.
Therefore, if there is an impact or price pressure on water companies
we might find that those schemes are further delayed.
322. Why do you fear the long term impact of
competition on the water environment?
(Mr Marsden) It is not so much competition per
323. What is it?
(Mr Marsden) It is the impact that that may have,
again on the point I have just been making. We are not just talking
about designated sites, the SSSIs and the Natura 2000 series of
international sites. We are talking about water companies' ability
to deliver across the range of biodiversity action plan targets.
There are five key priority habitats that are particularly affected.
Those are raised bogs, fens, reed beds, wet woodland and grazing
marsh, all of which potentially are affected by water deficit
quite seriously. Water companies have large land holdings. On
the whole they have been doing a good job in helping to deliver
the United Kingdom's biodiversity action plan targets, but we
may see their ability to do so affected if they come under increased
competition which affects their ability to spend money in those
ways. There are some specific examples of that.
324. Have you got any ideas about management
of their assets? Could they be split between the catchment areas,
looking at what the assets are for water companies?
(Mr Marsden) Indeed. As far as the land holdings are
concerned, water companies now are statutory undertakers
within the meaning of the recently enacted Countryside and Rights
of Way Act, and therefore have a very specific duty of care which
they must undertake; it is not an option, they have to do it.
We will work with them to ensure that they can. It is beyond the
designated sites that we might feel that there could be an impact
on what they can do beyond compliance.
325. Where do you see your role in this? You
would like to step in and say something. Would you like greater
powers or would you like your voices to be that little bit louder?
(Mr Marsden) We are an enabler, we are a facilitator,
we are also a regulator. I think we are acting in all of those
roles with the water companies.
326. Are there any changes that you would like
to make, any statement you would like to make today, to safeguard
(Mr Marsden) As far as the water companies per
se are concerned, no, but in relation to the wider roles of
the Director General and the new proposals for the Council and
powers, certainly we would, yes.
327. Do you support those?
(Mr Marsden) We are happy with those proposals subject
to them having a cross-cutting duty.
328. Would you rather the Director General had
some powers of discretion because it would always have to be a
discretionary regime, would it not, if he had to balance various
interests? Do you think that is best left with him or do you think
there should be powers of intervention for the Secretary of State
and it should not be with the regulator?
(Mr Marsden) That is a tough one. the Director General
already has quite specific powers and I think that the ministerial
guidance that is proposed in the Bill could further direct that
and bring some of the strands together. Those powers are quite
dispersed in a number of existing Acts. It would be useful if
the ministerial guidance brought those together in a specific
329. The guidance would be through further regulation
or by order? Do you think some degree of flexibility within the
Bill should be there?
(Mr Marsden) I think the degree of flexibility in
the Bill would be okay.
330. On this question of environmental protection,
cannot you have a pretty good drought in terms of the environment?
Is it not good occasionally to have droughts and presumably occasionally
to have floods?
(Mr Marsden) On a chalk downland quite possibly, but
not in some of the biodiversity action plan priority habitats
I mentioned earlier. Yes, a drought can help in some habitats.
It can be a good thing. Some things thrive on it.
331. But have not most natural habitats in the
past been subject to these substantial fluctuations?
(Mr Marsden) Periodically, yes.
332. So when we are looking at environmental
protection should it be to make sure that a reed bed has water
all the time for a hundred years or merely that it most of the
time has water?
(Mr Marsden) There is another factor I would like
to bring into play beyond the effect of climate and that is management.
If you combine lack of water with lack of management then you
have a problem because succession takes hold and it moves faster
than it would otherwise do.
333. So do you think that abstraction licences
should be revoked where they can say that there is serious damage
on occasions? How do you measure damage?
(Mr Marsden) We have a specific monitoring protocol
which our conservation officers carry out and it forms the basis
of our reports to government for the core indicator on sustainable
development: condition of special sites. We have a monitoring
protocol in place which affects both SSSIs and the Natura 2000
series. We can pick up changes in condition whether or not the
management condition of a site is favourable or unfavourable,
whether it is stable or declining. That is what the monitoring
protocol and the common standard with our sister agencies is designed
334. Would it not be reasonable on some of these
sites for the number of indicator species to drop dramatically
every so often because of drought?
(Mr Marsden) I think not, no. The reason for that
is that many of these sites now are islands and the wider environment
has been so drastically changed and a biodiversity action plan
is about putting something back, that we need to do everything
we can to underpin these jewels. Indeed, government has set a
very specific target for our sponsor department, DETR, in this
respect, to achieve favourable condition by 2010. That is going
to be a very tough call, particularly when, as I said earlier,
there are 358
of the 4,300-odd SSSIs that are currently adversely affected.
335. I can understand the argument about continual
damage but I am saying that in extreme circumstances I would have
thought it was just a natural feature that occasionally habitats
were going to be threatened.
(Mr Marsden) It is an occasional feature but it is
one which we should seek where possible to mitigate.
336. So you should not have a drought on some
of these areas?
(Mr Marsden) On some of these habitats certainly,
yes, but a fen that dries out will result in loss of species diversity
and species richness. Given the number of fens that are in good
condition which are supporting some of these plants, or indeed
animals which are confined to single sites, a drought would be
catastrophic in terms of losses.
337. So you are quite happy to see the abstraction
licences revoked where it is just serious damage?
(Mr Marsden) Serious damage is very important. As
far as the wider abstraction licences are concerned, we would
ideally like all of the licences to fall within the Environment
Agency's ability to call in so that we can effectively implement
catchment management strategies. That needs to be the driver.
We have got this new tool. We need the Environment Agency to be
able to use it effectively and without the ability to call in
other licences they will not be able to do that as effectively
as they might.
338. Do you think the Environment Agency is
doing a good job in protecting water resources?
(Mr Marsden) It is doing its best.
339. I did not ask you whether it is doing its
best. Is it doing a good job?
(Mr Marsden) It could do a better job with better
powers is the honest answer.
2 Witness correction: 197. Back
Witness correction: 151. Back
Witness correction: Section 28G authorities. Back
Witness correction: 197. Back