Memorandum by the Environment Agency (DWB
1. The Agency welcomes this opportunity
to put forward comments on the draft Water Bill to the Sub-committee.
This memorandum is a review of the comments we intend to make
to the Secretary of State.
2. The Agency welcomes the provisions laid
out in the draft Water Bill. Some will enable the de-regulation
of low impact activities whilst more significant operations can
be better controlled. We set out below where we feel that further
amendments should be considered.
3. The Agency worked closely with the Department
of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) on the development
of the proposals in Taking Water Responsibly. This was
published by the DETR in March 1999, following public consultation.
4. We believe that Taking Water Responsibly
presented a coherent approach for modernising the management
of water resources and for introducing the flexibility that will
be essential in dealing with the uncertainties of climate change
and the implementation of the Water Framework Directive. We would
wish to see the Water Bill and subordinate legislation fully embrace
the measures in Taking Water Responsibly.
5. The Agency welcomes the proposals to
change the abstraction licensing system. We are clear that further
clauses, or amendments to the present clauses, will be necessary
to deliver all the legislative proposals in Taking Water Responsibly.
We have noted this need on issues below, where we understand
such additions or amendments to be the Government's continuing
6. We support the de-regulation of small
abstractions that have little effect on the environment, and the
flexibility to deal with local conditions by threshold variation
orders. Careful consideration will need to be given to the implementation
of these changes to minimise the impact on those affected, and
to manage the changes to the Agency's workload.
7. A key aspect of the changes is the move
away from permanent rights of abstraction towards time-limited
authorisations. We welcome the provision to end the liability
to pay compensation for the curtailment of environmentally damaging
permanent licences. We believe this will provide an incentive
for the holders of such licences to convert to time-limited status.
8. We recognise the need for a simplified
process for the renewal of time-limited licences and believe that
our proposed changes to the advertising provisions and our plans
for Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies are a simple and
transparent basis for renewal.
9. The Agency has presented proposals (Better
Licence Administration: A Review of Licence Administration
Procedures) to improve administration to the DETR. We recommend
that these are implemented.
10. We support the tougher penalties for
breaches of licences and the provisions to strengthen the Agency's
CLAUSES 1 TO
11. The Agency supports the division of
licences into three types and the retention of exemptions for
12. We welcome the removal of warping and
trickle irrigation from the definition of land drainage since
bringing these activities into the licensing regime will control
the potential for environmental damage and place such activities
on an equal footing with other forms of irrigation.
13. We note that further provisions will
be necessary for bringing under control the very significant transfers
for augmentation of supplies within land drainage systems. (This
was proposed by the Government in Taking Water Responsibly).
We have concerns with the provisions for dewatering exemptions
if there is no power to enforce the giving of notice by abstractors.
CLAUSES 5 TO
14. The Agency supports these except for
two points. We believe that for impoundment licensing, land ownership
should be the qualification for any potential applicant since
impoundment's involve permanent structures and may require operating
agreements between the Agency and the licence holder.
15. The Agency should be responsible for
all advertising for applications. This will simplify the process
for the applicant, and be consistent with other application procedures
within the Agency.
16. Advertising discretion should be extended
to all minor proposals judged by the Agency as having a negligible
effect on the environment or other rights of lawful water users.
Extension of this discretion is essential to support the simplified
renewal of time-limited licences.
17. We support this amendment, but note
that further Clauses will be necessary to maintain protection
from derogation of small abstractors who are or will become exempt
from the licensing requirements. Paragraph 3.34 of Taking Water
Responsibly confirms that it was not Government's intention to
remove protection from exempt abstractors.
CLAUSES 10 AND
18. We support Clause 10 but believe that
Clause 11 will not improve the administration of licensing. We
believe that the requirement for the Agency to serve notice of
impending expiry of a licence is unnecessary. The CAMS process
will ensure that licence holders are notified that their licences
will expire. We believe that further consideration is required
as to what constitutes a valid application in the context of licence
19. We welcome the move to simplify the
present cumbersome arrangements for the transfer of licences.
However, caution may be needed, particularly in relation to licences
which do not specify the land on which water is to be used, if
transfer would allow the new holder to return the water to the
environment in a different way to the prior holder. We are also
concerned for the same reasons about the statement in the explanatory
notes that the need for water abstracted under a transferred licence
to be used on the original land. We consider that licences should
be transferred by the proposed means only if all details other
than those of the licence holder remain unchanged. Any other change
should require formal variation of the licence.
CLAUSES 14 TO
20. We fully support the changes to compensation
and claims provisions. These will allow better protection to water
resources and the environment without the threat of compensation
claims when damaging licences are revoked. In Clause 15(2), we
believe that the principle of no compensation for revocation of
unused licences should apply also to the unused parts of licences.
We query whether there needs to be a risk of "serious"
damage before there are grounds for varying or revoking a licence.
CLAUSES 18 AND
21. We welcome the extension of the power
to enter into arrangements with all licence holders.
22. We support the introduction of notice
provisions to bolster the Agency's enforcement powers where licences
are breached. We do not believe that the test for serving the
enforcement notice should be the likelihood of significant damage.
It should be non-compliance with the licence.
23. We recommend the extension of those
powers to situations where licences are likely to be breached
so that such notices can be used as a preventative mechanism as
enforcement notices are in the discharge consenting regime.
24. This measure will help us to meet our
duty to secure the proper use of water resources.
25. We support the raising of the maximum
fine to £20,000.
26. We support this Clause.
27. We welcome this power. It will ensure
the Agency has the information required to determine licences.
We are concerned that this power may not extend to obtaining Water
Resource Plans from water companies.
28. We welcome the new duty on water companies
to further water conservation but are disappointed that it has
not been possible to place similar duties on all abstractors.
The Agency will consider including "water conservation"
conditions in new licences and encourage the voluntary inclusion
of such conditions in variations to existing licences.
PARAGRAPH 13, PAGE
29. The Agency is very concerned at the
apparent suggestion that a power is being proposed for the Secretary
of State to routinely receive letters of objection to licence
applications. This proposal was not part of the Government's earlier
consultation. However, we understand that this in fact is not
the Government's intention and that the latter part of this paragraph
was intended only to signal that minor changes to the provisions
of section 38 of the Water Resources Act 1991 might be necessary
in order to align with the proposed changes to section 37 of that
30. We note that the provisions for a register
of protected rights will be made in the final Bill. The Agency
hopes that it will have the opportunity to comment on these proposals.
31. We note the following omissions of other
proposals contained in Taking Water Responsibly which we
would like to be dealt with in the Bill or in the new Regulations:
to require applicants for abstraction
authorisations to submit details of the means by which the abstracted
water returns to the environment;
power for the Agency to waive the
requirement to advertise for applications which seek to vary the
terms of existing licences;
to remove the need for advertisement
of licence conversion to a time limited status;
to make impounding authorisations,
subject to a "de minimis" exemption, into consents
for the life of the works authorised and transferable against
any person owning or operating the works;
to impose conditions on existing
unlicensed impoundment's where damage is occurring, subject to
rules of compensation; and,
to amend Section 189 Water Resources
Act 1991 to include abstraction return data as on public registers,
and section 204 so as to minimise any permission required for
disclosure and ensure consistency with the Agency's policy to
operate in any open and transparent manner.
23 TO 25, CLAUSES
22 TO 42)
32. We suggest that the Director General
of Water Services should have a duty to contribute to Sustainable
Development. The new Advisory Panel, the customer council and
guidance from the Secretary of State on environment and social
issues do not, in our view, give the Director General sufficient
duties in this respect. We suggest that the Water Advisory Panel
includes people who would represent the environment (and social
matters) and that Clause 23 state that the Consumer Council should
have a member to represent environmental interests.
33. We are concerned that the new duty to
further the consumer objective in Clause 27 could give added emphasis
to the immediate requirements of consumers and conflict with their
needs for the longer term benefits of sustainable development.
Such a duty could conflict with the environmental duties of the
Secretary of State and the Director General and hamper the Agency's
ability to achieve its own responsibilities.
34. We support the inclusion of flexible
provisions for competition within the Water Bill, rather than
having them in a general competition bill. This is because of
the need for accountability on matters of public health and water
49 TO 52)
35. We welcome the transfer of the enforcement
responsibilities to the Agency, however, we would welcome an independent
funding assessment to determine the level of funding required
for this new role.
36. The power to make a direction by the
Secretary of State on undertakers to prepare a flood plan is a
new duty under the Reservoirs Act 1975. This power is welcomed.
Clarification is required that "publication of the flood
plan" means "publication by the undertakers (reservoir
owners) of the flood plan" (Clause 52).
37. We add a comment on the Regulatory Impact
Assessment. Greater emphasis should be given to the need to prepare
emergency response plans for dam breaks and to identify areas
at risk of flooding.
54 AND CLAUSE
38. This is a sensible "tidying up"
Clause, which the Agency supports. We are concerned however about
the working of this provision in practice and seek for the appeals
mechanism to pass from the Agency to the Planning Inspectoratea
point not covered in the draft Bill. We are discussing this with
the DETR. The Agency's position as promoter of environmental improvements
and adjudicator of appeals for first time sewerage can conflict
and may raise issues of compatibility with Article 6 of the European
Convention on Human Rights.
(SECTIONS 66 TO
39. We support the proposal to develop regulation-making
powers for the Secretary of State to specify the information to
be provided to the Agency by both parties to a transfer of a consent.
This will ensure continuity of accountability for discharges.
68 TO 70, 56)
40. We support the proposal in principle.
We shall raise with the DETR an uncertainty of interpretation
of Section 121 of the Water Industry Act 1991 by the water industry,
regarding its powers to attach toxicity conditions to trade effluent
(SECTIONS 71 TO
73 AND CLAUSE
41. The Agency supports the proposals to
give the Coal Authority powers to deal with discharges from abandoned
mines and believes that these powers will lead to environmental
improvements of benefit to sustainable development.
42. We believe that in exercising its new
powers the Coal Authority should be placed under a duty to consult
the Agency before taking any action. This ensures that all parties
are aware and that the most sustainable and cost effective options
43. We welcome the initiative to give the
Coal Authority powers to prevent or mitigate the effects of discharges
from abandoned coal mines and powers of entry and compulsory purchase.
Land acquisition has been a limiting step in schemes to remediate
pollution (Sections 71 to 73).
(SECTIONS 46 TO
53 AND CLAUSE
44. The proposals revolve around the introduction
of a test significance for the pollution of controlled waters.
The effect is to reduce the amount of land defined as contaminated.
This should reduce the potential for blight on land where the
risk to controlled waters is negligible. We support this aim.
We note that:
it will be important to ensure that
the definition of contaminated land and any changes to it are
exactly right, given the risk that land may be unfairly blighted
if unnecessarily determined to be contaminated; and
the Agency and DETR are liasing about
certain aspects of the proposals, including the drafting of statutory
guidance relating to the definition of contaminated land as proposed
to be amended by the clause.
45. The Agency and DETR are in continuing
discussion regarding a number of the details of the proposed changes
to the Part IIA regime in order to ensure that they are compatible
with other water legislation.
46. We have suggested that any review of
Committees should take place after a review of how flood defence