Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
160. Clearly it is going to mean a lower input/lower
output kind of agriculture.
(Ms Davis) From an RSPB and WWF perspective, we would
say very strongly that the way to manage this system is actually
to reduce input, to look at the whole farming system so that we
do not end up in a situation like we are now where effectively
we are mining the world's mineral phosphorous resources, pouring
them into the countryside of the UK and then watching them being
flushed out into our rivers with the result that we are going
to lose something like a third of our entire aquatic plant flora
if we carry on at the rate we are doing at the moment. It is not
an intelligent way to manage. One context behind that that I do
not know if people are aware of, is that something like 85 per
cent of the phosphorous that goes in one end of a cow in food
comes straight out the other end. These levels of dietary phosphorous
supplements are very, very high in comparison to the actual benefits
you get in terms of yield. That is a direct result of the fact
that we have just pushed farmers into a position where they have
to maximiseabsolutely maximisethat output.
161. But there are going to be costs to the
farmers, are there not? You have talked about the dairy sector,
the problems of pollution. It cannot all be low-cost no-cost.
(Ms Davis) I think that is right.
162. Are you going to tell us about that role?
(Mr Oates) I think we touched earlier on the potential
for using washlands and other forms of wetlands for flood storage.
That is a case where farmers could be paid to store flood water
on their land. They could actually have an income from doing a
job on behalf of the wider community. Instead of building huge
expensive flood defence concrete structures which may or may not
do the job, we could put the money in the pockets of farmers and
get them to do the job for us.
163. So it is the old argument, to move away
from subsidies on production to payments for environmental benefits.
(Mr Oates) Yes.
164. One of the potential points that will clash
in the not too distant future between these river basic management
plans is going to be where it comes into conflict with land use
planning, local authorities and such, and how the objectivesif
you likeare going to be married together. We already, of
course, have fairly detailed structured plans and local plans
and community plans and everything else, and now you are going
to try and overlay on the top of that. What do you think the effect
of this Water Framework Directive will be on the local authorities?
How do you think they are going to deal with that and how are
they going to marry it together with their existing land use planning
strategies and such?
(Mr Oates) We need to recognise we already have this
conflict. There is already the conflict between the demands put
on planners to provide more homes and more space for factories
and roads, et cetera, and the need to prevent building on flood
plains to help us control flooding. We already have the problem.
The view we would take from the NGO side is that the Water Framework
Directive positively helps us by providing a potential means to
bring all the necessary people together to look at the problem
in the round, look at who has the resources and the legal powers
to help do something about it collectively; and then frame a programme
of action, consult the people who will be concerned in the towns,
in the villages, on the farms, get their sign up to it so that
we get ahead with schemes that are holistic and start solving
the problems. We need to move away from spending years of argument
between the local authority, the Environment Agency, DEFRA etc.
(Ms Lewin) Could I just to add that this is one of
our biggest concerns, really, in terms of the lack of analysis
at least in the public forum. It may be going on, but public discussion
around how these systems are going to operate just has not been
there essentially. I think that the DEFRA stakeholder sounding
board has met maybe three times to date. In terms of the discussions
there we have been particularly interested in the biodiversity
and wetlands aspects and we have driven that quite hard and had
quite a positive rapport with DEFRA on that. WWF has focussed
on the public participation element, et cetera. But this whole
issue is very under-developed, at least in the public arena. We
would like to see that discussed very soon.
165. At the bottom of all this you have individuals
and organisations and companies which own land which has been
acquired or which is now subject to existing structure plans and,
indeed, sometimes planning constraintsif you likewhich
currently they have to abide by over a period of time. I can just
see a huge number of appeals coming up here if we are going to
make wholesale changes in the land use because of WFD. Where is
the balance going to lie? Is it going to be in favour of the objectives
of the Water Framework Directive or is it going to say that existing
structure plans and such have precedence, some of which go way
(Ms Lewin) I think that is a very important question
to ask the Agency when they come along in a few weeks. Clearly
we have some objectives to meet under the Directive that are statutory
requirements. Obviously there are some cost tests within that.
If things are simply too expensive then we mitigate. I think in
the short term perhaps it is not so difficult, but we do need
to get the thinking right and in addition we need to think also
about appeal processes within river basin management plans themselves.
Not only do these plans need to link together, but what will happen
if someone does not like what is happening with the plan. RSPB,
for example, we might want to appeal against a decision or a local
authority. That thinking just has not been done so I think it
would be very useful to ask the Agency who may have much more
of an idea than we have.
(Mr Oates) What you have touched on here essentially
is who and how decides the balance between the three aspects of
sustainability: the environmental needs, the social needs and
the economic needs. I think the answer to that, from our point
of view, would be that these things have to be discussed and agreed
locally by all the affected people, including the businesses,
the people who want new homes, the people who want to protect
their wetlands. These things have to be discussed through a system
which the Environment Agency as the competent authority must set
up to involve in the requirement of the Directive all the interested
parties, get them to collectively come to an agreed vision for
where they all want to see that river basin going, and get them
to agree what the trade-offs will be. Because even at WWF we are
not here solely to worry about the furry mammals, we are here
to look at the environment as a whole for both people and wild
life. We recognise there will have to be trade-offs. We are not
saying that you can never build on a flood plain; you must always
protect a wetland. Often, the decisions about how much wetland
you protect, how much building you do, have to be done locally
by local people with all the facts, with all the information,
through a transparent process. We do not have that at present.
A lot of work needs to be done to develop one and we are here
offering, as I said, through our model river basin management
plan, to work with government in helping to develop such a process
that helps take us all forward.
166. It is a good job we have 10 or 12 years
(Mr Oates) We do not think we have, that is the problem.
167. The stakeholder sounding board, you said
it met three times and then it has sort of died, has it not? What
has happened to it?
(Ms Lewin) There is a meeting coming just before Christmas.
I think the will has been there for the stakeholder sounding board
but again I think that DEFRA have had really serious resourcing
problems. The will is there to involve stakeholders and largely
the right people are sitting round the table. There has always
been a bit of an issue about what the purpose of the board is
and really how much influence has been possible. Certainly from
RSPB's perspective it has helped us take the wetlands issue right
through to the Commission and so we have found that very useful.
Again, it is a resource problem.
(Ms Davis) I am a little concerned in terms of the
public participation elements that where there is not necessarily
a lot of stakeholder engagement is in the technical processes
that sit behind the policy development for the Directive, if you
like. The stakeholder sounding board is a nice useful opportunity
to go and air some views with some important stakeholders, but
it does not do the active work behind the Directive which, as
a lot of you probably already know, is done by the UK TAG, the
UK technical advisory group. I would be interested to know if
there were possibilities of developing some more active involvement
by stakeholders with the UK TAG because we want to put our effort
where the decision making process is. It is not that we do not
appreciate the sounding board, but it is precisely that, a sounding
board. It is perhaps worth using the model at a European level
where environmental stakeholders within the Common Implementation
Strategy are actually helping to develop the thinking and contributing
towards that thinking rather than being simply observers or spectators
of the process. We would be interested to know whether the Agency
would respond to that in a positive way.
Chairman: Well, we have the opportunity to ask
them that before very long. In the meantime, thank you very much
for your evidence. If there is anything you wish to add to it
as you reflect, then you will no doubt let our clerks know. That
concludes this morning's session. Thank you.