Examination of Witness(Questions 168-179)|
WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002
168. Good morning, Ms Jacqui Cuff. You are the
Rural and Community Development Consultant for Rural Horizons,
which is a consultancy specialising in consultancy.
(Ms Cuff) I am Rural Horizons.
169. That makes it very easy. We can conceptualise
you rather easier than we can conceptualise the Water Framework
Directive at the moment. Can you tell me just to begin, there
have been some slippages in the timetable in all of this, have
there not? What are the implications?
(Ms Cuff) On the participation front, which is really
what I am going to focus on today, there is debate about whether
or not we should have made more progress in the UK to date on
public participation. I think the main message is that we should
get started ASAP because, if you like, we are a bit behind on
raising awareness. Bearing in mind the Environment Agency say
that this is the biggest thing in town in terms of cleaning up
of waterways then there are a lot of people out there, particularly
general members of the public, who have no idea that this is on
the horizon and what it might mean for them as an opportunity.
I think we are behind. Technically the Water Framework Directive
does not require anything to have to be done until 2006 but the
widespread opinion, particularly from the EU, is that things cannot
wait until then.
170. Does public consultation mean in practice
consulting all sorts of lobby groups and NGOs and that, or does
the public actually mean your anonymous public?
(Ms Cuff) The phrase that is generally used is "public
participation", although that is not the phrase in the Water
Framework Directive. Public participation encompasses three things:
consultation, active involvement and information. The general
concept is that through active involvement, which is the very
first stage of getting people aware and interested, you touchstone
as many members of the public and interest groups as possible.
There is also the concept of stakeholders and it is probably useful
to split them between organisational stakeholders, which means
talking to people like the NFU and the CLA, but also community
stakeholders and individuals. The experience I have of the Wise
Use Project, which I have left some brochures behind about, and
Guidance Note 2 is the one I would refer you to, that particularly
dealt with how to get out and talk to the individual members of
the community: shoppers in the street, parish councils, fishermen,
tourist groups, the whole range of the general public who on a
day-to-day basis will be affected by decisions about management
of their rivers.
171. So if you turn up at number 12 Acacia Avenue
and knock at the door and say "could you just give me five
minutes on the Water Framework Directive", do you do that?
(Ms Cuff) That is one method. There is a whole range
of methods and I would not rule out in some parts of some river
basins doing a door to door survey.
172. How long do you have to spend on telling
them what it is all about before you get to the first question?
(Ms Cuff) This is why we have to start now, because
most people have not got a clue what the Water Framework Directive
is and what it can do for them. I know it is early stages but
disappointingly at the moment, and I know you are going to hear
from Barbara Young, if you key in "Water Framework Directive"
on the Environment Agency's website you get 92 entries which you
then have to plough through. If this is really the flagship piece
of legislation for water then at the very minimum there should
be a button or something that says "Water Framework Directive"
on the first page if people are interested to find out more. We
have just had a consultation paper from DEFRA which seems that
it is not going to really focus on going out to the general public,
it is going to be more of the usual suspects and the usual consultation
procedures which are oft quoted.
173. I am just a bit suspicious because any
consultation surely is just going to be a massive grinding of
sectional axes, it is not going to be asking ordinary Joe Bloggs
what he thinks and giving a genuine expression of his opinion.
You cannot really do that because they have not got enough information
and never will have enough information. It is just interest groups
that are going to be grinding axes to plant in each other's heads.
(Ms Cuff) Why should that be? You are saying that
as if it is a given. Just because consultation has been done in
a particular way does not mean that it should be done in that
way for the Water Framework Directive. The Water Framework Directive
puts public participation at the very heart of the Directive.
It says that it is essential to the delivery of its environmental
objectives. It does not require but it encourages active involvement.
Active involvement means talking to people. It does mean using
the website, using leaflets, organising small focus groups, sampling
opinion. You cannot get the opinion of every single member of
the public other than perhaps through electronic means, but not
face to face. You can sample opinion and we have got experience
of that in the Wise Use Project where we sampled opinion in villages
within a river basin district and used those as representative
views. You can go into hot spots where perhaps you know there
is controversy or there have been issues to do with flooding or
water quality and sample opinion. This can be done, you do not
just have to do the classic consultation. Last week, I do not
know whether it was as a member of the public or as a consultant,
I received the Environment Agency's Customer Charter through my
front door and this is a classic piece of consultation, it asks
what are my views on the Customer Charter and it is a tick box
thing that you send back. I think we have to go further than that
with the Water Framework Directive.
Chairman: I just wondered if anybody around
this table had received this particular piece of paper. No.
Mr Mitchell: I still do not see it. It is going
to be such a massive exercise. You are suggesting really that
we should consult opinion in the same way that we formulate policy
in the Labour Party, which is tell them what we are going to do
Mrs Shephard: Do not do it.
174. And then have a focus group on how best
to present it. There is no framework and no precedent in this
country for this kind of massive consultation on an environment
issue. All our consultative processes are usually through Parliament
and MPs. If we throw it open the interest groups are going to
rush in there, feed in misinformation or information, and prejudice
the whole case. It is a hypothetical concept, is it not?
(Ms Cuff) No, it is not hypothetical at all. There
are lots of precedents for very effective public participation
exercises, perhaps not so much in the context of water but in
the context of other issues, such as nuclear energy or the development
of local democracy. There are lots of experts and consultants
out there, believe me, who can tell the Environment Agency how
to do it. The Environment Agency itself has lots of experience
already, it has done Local Environmental Action Plans, it is not
starting from scratch here. It knows how to talk to people at
grass roots level, it has done it although maybe on a slightly
smaller scale. It has just done a test case in the Ribble looking
at cost-effectiveness and that has involved lots of stakeholder
participation. Your concern about groups hijacking the process,
that is all to do with how the process is managed. As I say, they
can be segregated off so you have an organisational participation
process and you have the more general public opinion process.
175. I hope you are right and I am wrong but
I am still cynical about it. Is DEFRA the appropriate body to
take public participation forward?
(Ms Cuff) DEFRA has to take a strong lead. Obviously
they have now said that the Environment Agency is the competent
authority and the Environment Agency has a pivotal role but DEFRA
have to take a much stronger lead than they are doing currently.
The recent second consultation paper chapter on public information
and consultation is incredibly weak and suggests a minimalist
approach to public participation. It starts off with a fantastic
introductory paragraph which filled me full of hope and optimism
and talked about having to "talk to people who live and work
in areas where relevant, make sure they are actively involved,
a participatory process that can be enriched by the aspirations
and knowledge of all those who care about the water environment
and the concerns of those affected by proposed action". That
is a fantastic introductory paragraph. The second paragraph, which
is 14.2, then refers to there being "much good practice and
a UK Government Code on consultation". Where is the best
practice? Let us have some examples. If we do not have enough
in a water context let us pilot some. There is a DEFRA Sounding
Board which is sitting there contemplating how to take this Framework
Directive forward and it needs to pilot perhaps some participation
exercises in some river basins and to see which work and which
176. You do not think much of DEFRA's consultation
(Ms Cuff) No, I do not. It is that sort of document
that would go to the usual suspects, it is not the sort of thing
you would put through Acacia Avenue. The content of it on participation
is very weak.
177. Do you see DEFRA as being equipped to lead
(Ms Cuff) Equipped?
(Ms Cuff) Financially or knowledge-wise?
179. Or capable, shall we say.
(Ms Cuff) They are the best thing we have got. They
have to get their act together.
David Taylor: Answer the question.