Examination of Witnesses(Questions 240-259)|
WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002
240. You are, hopefully, going to be a competent
authority, are there any other competent authorities required
for the implementation of this Directive?
(Dr Skinner) There are a lot of authorities required.
The point we made in our own written evidence and we discussed
today is this has not cannot happen without a lot of other people
doing their part, planning and other issues, that is what the
plan has to integrate. The purpose of the competent authority
is to be the steward of that and our experience is that it is
not really very easy to do it if there is more than one in that
241. The reason I ask that was that English
Nature told us, "We can build on this information base to
prepare nature conservation sub plans for River Basin Management
Plans, in this respect we expect English Nature will become a
competent authority in the regulations transposing the Directive".
(Dr Skinner) That is a judgment for government to
make. Our advice would be that that is not necessary for English
Nature to factor their objectives into the River Basin Plans and
the example we have is the work we are doing right now with the
price review, where we are working extremely closely in the nature
of making joint submissions to government on what the requirements
and environmental needs are and we are taking the lead in incorporating
their views. That is how I would see the Directive working but
with more players.
242. This makes me very nervous if English Nature
are coming out with a very clear statement about them being regarded
as a competent authority, you are about to be nominated as the
competent authority, how many competent authorities are we going
to end up?
(Baroness Young) Perhaps I can help by commenting
as an ex chairman of English Nature I can understand why they
want to be a competent authority, I would probably have been arguing
the same if I was there. I think the important thing for public
accountability is there is a clear responsible body that is tasked
with bringing in the views and contributions of all of the other
players. We know from bitter experience in flood defence, where
there are a multiplicity of operating authorities, that the public
are extremely confused about who is responsible for flooding in
this country and we not want to repeat that mistake.
243. Is that a clear message of, back in your
box, English Nature, take your place in the queue to put your
(Baroness Young) They are a very close and valued
partner and indeed delivering biodiversity through the Framework
Directive has been very, very crucial and I think it is one of
the best things that could happen for biodiversity because it
brings it much more centre stage than has been the case in the
past. Let us do it in a way that does not imply that somehow we
do not trust each other. There are specific roles for specific
bodies. Our key role, if we are the competent authority, is to
make sure that everyone is a firm part of that process. The reality
is the Water Framework Directive will not deliver if there is
an organisation that does not feel that it is getting its statutory
responsibilities discharged through the mechanisms we used.
244. Have you received categoric and clear assurances
from ministers that you will have as an agency and a competent
authority all of the necessary powers that you think you will
require to help deliver this Directive?
(Baroness Young) I would hesitate to say we have had
assurances from ministers because we are only at the stage of
finding out what the powers and responsibilities and indeed funds
are that we would require. I note that we have had a slightly
entertaining moment in our relationship with our sponsor body
in they have very clearly made us aware that the success or failure
of the Water Framework Directive will lie at our feet. That is
something that I was not too clear about accepting, because I
think the success or failure of the Water Framework Directive
will depend on our success and the success of a whole range of
bodies in delivering this. This is a very long term Directive,
it is a Framework Directive which brings together a whole load
of pre-existing mechanisms and funding streams and players and
I think it would have been pretty rash of ministers to have agreed
right at the very beginning that whatever we said was needed in
terms of powers or finance would be provided. I hope we will have
an effective dialogue with our sponsor body and indeed with local
government mechanisms and others about how they can put their
tuppence worth in that is necessary to deliver the Directive.
245. One of our contributors in terms of evidence
was a firm of solicitors Taylor Beatty, who are concerned about
conflicts of interest between your organisation in terms of its
statutory and its administrative responsibilities and relationship
with DEFRA. Do you think in terms of judge and jury on some aspects
of the current river basin activity there are conflicts of interest
in the context of the implementation of the Water Framework Directive
and if there are any how do you seek to resolve them?
(Baroness Young) I am always slightly phased by the
conflict of interest issue because it does seem to me that the
Environment Agency is given the role by government on behalf of
government and indeed the public of delivering a whole range of
duties, some of which require quite difficult balancing decisions:
Are rivers for fishing? Are they for boating?
Are they for water supply? Are they for flood
defences? Are they for agriculture? Are they for industry? There
are always going to be conflicts but government says it wants
an agency to take some of these decisions on a fine grain basis
within national policy. There is always a conflict of interest
for us and that is why we have been set up to look at water and
rivers in an integrated way and now under the Framework Directive
to look at land and water in an integrated way because some of
these decisions do need to be made on the basis of the best balance,
taking account of all of the needs round those catchments, and
that is what the whole point of the Water Framework Directive
is. I think the risk of conflict of interest is if there are a
number of bodies who have equal decision-making powers within
the Directive and where there is simply impasse and government
is forced to make decisions between them on successive occasions,
I think that is really bad public administration. We need to make
sure that decisions are made at the right level where people can
understand them. That I think in itself means there has to be
a body that holds the reign in these sort of processes and at
the end of the day for good or for bad the ministers can sack
us if we get it wrong. We make decisions. We do that day in and
day out in terms of our current environmental roles, particularly
in our regulatory role with industry.
246. The Directive provides for staged implementation
with a series of deadlines for Member States but sometimes it
might be necessary or helpful or even cost-effective to implement
it before. I wonder if you would like to say in what ways it could
prove cost-effective to pre-empt deadlines and are there any other
reasons why one might want to do this?
(Dr Skinner) The timetable is quite a tight one so
the opportunity in the short-term probably does not arise but
certainly the principle is a good one. As we are looking at the
water company price review, which is on now, we to see examples
where soft water solutions could be taken if we work to current
rules rather than rules that we know will be out of place by 2009,
and we have drawn those to the attention of government. Another
example where timely policy issues could make the Directive easier
to implement and less costly on some parties would be in the context
of CAP reform. Decisions made now about transfer to pillar two,
which have environmental outcomes, will mean when the relevant
sectors bite under implementation that we will make some headway.
There are issues and opportunities in advance. There are also
mechanisms in the Directive for delay. You can have derogations
and it might be that the best economic solution cannot be achieved
immediately because infrastructure needs to be built or information
needs to be gathered to get the best solution. It is possible
to build that kind of concept into a River Basin Plan which says,
we think we have to go there but we do not know and therefore
we are going to set this objective now which will may be in derogation,
we will explain that to the Commission, and it will come in later.
Although we said these dates are very rigid, and they are, there
are these mechanisms for delay and there are opportunities we
are already identifying for taking things earlier and we are bringing
those forward already.
247. You talked there about opportunities, some
of the organisations have put forward a view that government is
not really looking at the Framework Directive as an opportunity
but more of a burden and they will therefore try, as lots of governments
do when faced with this, to put in the minimum rather than going
for the maximum gain, minimum compliance is all they will hope
to reach. What could be the real disadvantages to us as a society,
as a nation, as environment, if you like, if we take this restricted
(Dr Skinner) That is obviously going to be an issue
discussed between us and the department on the budget issue we
just mentioned. One of the big issues, and this is where I agree
with other witnesses this morning and evidence you received, is
the sooner you start doing things the more people understand what
is going on and have the chance to raise their understanding and
raise their engagement. The biggest disadvantage of running up
to the wire is that people post that wire feel uninvolved and
uncommitted to the conclusions because there was not enough lead
time and that is why there is a need to go for a minimalist approach.
248. As Baroness Young said, government said
to you as an agency you are responsible for this but there is
a tension there, is there not, that government may well not really
follow it in the spirit but only by the letter. Will you feel
you will have been successful if you only followed it by the letter
and not the spirit or are you concerned that you, like most times
that we have complaints in Britain, gold plate everything and
you might be accused of gold plating?
(Baroness Young) The touchstone for us will be whether
the environment gets better or not, it has to be outcome based.
The Directive has to start delivering real improvements in the
environment. There are opportunities that are not necessarily
just simply about government, although obviously government has
to play its role, for example the water price review, which is
going to be settled by the water regulator in the next two years
is the five yearly opportunity for a whacking great slab of money
to go into an environment programme if we are as successful as
we were the last time round in making sure that we had a well
thought through environment programme. That is going to be a contentious
thing for the regulators because of course the last time round
that could be achieved and still reduce prices, next time round,
there is not the capacity for that and we will have to grit our
teeth and if we are going to use this price review to help deliver
on the Framework Directive early we will have to have a very strenuous
public debate about what that means for prices and affordability.
We are already with others in the debate about the next price
line, taking public opinion about what the public see as affordability
in terms of water prices. That decision and the size of the environment
programme that ministers instruct the economic regulator to fund
will be a pretty crucial one for moving ahead in terms of the
improvement of water quality.
249. We are concerned about just how much we
are going to really do this Framework, how is good status going
to be defined by you?
(Dr Skinner) It is clearly one of the most important
drivers because the setting of that good status will make the
difference between how much you need to put in, that decision
is critical, which is why we put so much effort into the common
implementation strategies, and some of my colleagues have spent
a great deal of time using the expertise and experience we gained
in terms of ecological and biological monitoring to set those
thresholds. We are used to having quality based objectives, river
quality objectives, largely on the chemical side but we also have
biological standards and biological objectives running in parallel,
this will bring the two together. That experience has fed through
into setting that level. What it does do is that it will be applied
according to the nature of the river, so it does enable you to
set standards against references. You would not expect a Welsh
mountain stream and a East Anglian river to have the same elements,
and this system allows us to do that. You are not setting standards
across Europe in a brutal way, it is much more sensitive than
that, and we should be able to set it on environmental need and
the focus our expenditure. What you are setting you then look
at the pressures of it and how you go about it in a logical manner,
taking the steps necessary to achieve the quality. Some of our
rivers will have already achieved it.
(Dr Griffiths) Yes.
251. Could you name me two?
(Dr Griffiths) Not necessarily whole rivers. If you
look at the back of the government consultation paper there are
a series of biological maps, colour-coded and they will give you
some indication of the areas that need improvements.
Diana Organ: Is it possible if you can drop
us a note about some bits of some rivers, name them and their
location that you are saying have achieved it?
Chairman: And the criteria that determine that
252. Can I pick up one issue on the back of
that, we have certainly been advised it is not just how you measure
quality but what you measure. I would be interested in your response
that we do not measure in phosphorous.
(Dr Griffiths) I would say that it is untrue. We do
a significant amount of phosphate monitoring, both of effluents
and of rivers. We have an extensive quality assessment programme
on which we report giving phosphorous data. It also informs government
decision-making in terms of designating sensitive areas and we
have been doing a lot to bring in the Habitats Directive and understanding
that. Where we need to do more is in some of the diffuse sources
and some understanding of the pathways. We need to know more about
some of the specific weapons, habitat directive sites and, some
of the fluxes between ground water and surface water, that is
another whole science area that we are working on. We certainly
have a significant amount of background information. There are
certain bits where we will be reviewing our monitoring programmes,
not only to bring in some of the focus on chemical monitoring
but to readjust to ecological monitoring. There are some areas
where we have less information on estuaries and marine and some
of the lakes, and we need to do more, but we do have R&D projects
that are starting to give us some more information on these matters.
253. There are potentially some big costs to
the users of water of the improvements that will come from this
Directive, how much do you think that the consumers should pay
or do you think any of the expenses, because we are dealing with
a national asset, should be for the nation collectively to bear
the cost of?
(Baroness Young) The Directive of course does make
it clear that the costs need to be spread round the beneficiaries
and so the mechanisms by which you achieve that are many and varied.
Many of the things that need to happen under the Directive are
already funded in particular ways, for example the water price
round process is a process whereby it is funded by charge payers
for water and there are other processes which are funded directly
from public expenditure. There are others where I would anticipate
that we would want to see redirection and consider the amount
of common agricultural funding in the shape of subsidies to the
farmers. It will be a variety of different ways, depending on
the nature of the task you are trying to crack and the tradition
of how it has been funded in the past and the politics of how
we take it forward. There is a need under the Directive to look
at how beneficiaries can have the cost of this spread round them.
254. Can I pick up on the language used, the
beneficiaries, who are the beneficiaries?
(Baroness Young) There are a whole variety of beneficiaries,
obviously the selling job I tried to do at the beginning of the
Water Framework Directive, which was a combination of how clean
water and improved habitat benefits a whole range of things, fishermen,
industry, regenerators, people who just enjoy the river
255. Would you say we are all going to be beneficiaries
of this? In other words, everyone who lives in the United Kingdom
will be a beneficiary in some way?
(Baroness Young) In some way and to a varying extent.
If all you do is drink water and get rid of your sewage and eat
food you are only benefiting from some elements of it, but if
you are a fisherman or a canoeist or a developer who wanted a
nice riverside frontage in order to be able to regenerate a rundown
inner city or if you are a deprived kid who has some sort of river
recreation experience that gets you out of teenage crime, there
are a whole load of beneficiaries. At the moment we have a number
of funding streams that are traditionally pooling money in different
ways. I suspect it is better to build on those rather than think
of funding in a central fashion.
256. I could interpret what you said that there
could be a whole menu of charges, for example being a member of
a river cruising club I might be expected to pay some more for
the benefits of the enhancement of the river estuary, where I
might occasionally get my boat into, because you said that people
with water frontage might get an added benefit. I am intrigued
to know what work you have done about recovery mechanisms because
so far in the evidence we have seen the range of costs is enormous.
What is potentially quite frightening is that once this stuff
is clicked into by the popular press they will simply take the
biggest number, divide it by all of the water users and say water
users face gigantic increases in costs notwithstanding regulatory
activity. In paragraph 37 of your evidence you say, "The
Directive allows for the achievement of good status to be delayed
if costs can be shown to be disproportionate and work has begun
to assess how such judgments might be made in a consistent manner".
That has all kinds of connotations. I remember in the south west
when there were water quality issues and there were huge bills
that had to be paid and suddenly everyone starts back-peddling.
What does this all mean for the implementation of this Directive,
because it seems to me on the one hand you can challenge it on
the grounds of disproportionate costs and on the other hand you
are saying perhaps we better develop some new pricing mechanisms
to recover the costs. Guide us on thinking in this area?
(Dr Skinner) We are not doing any work and I do not
believe DEFRA are on new costing charge recovery mechanisms. As
Barbara said it seems it will be the traditional ones that will
apply. The first issue is to make sure that the costs are attributed
to the sources so that damage to the environment which is attributable
to the way agriculture is managing land does not find its way
into the bills of water company consumers in extra costs on the
treatment of sewage. We are already doing that kind of work in
the way we go through the water company price reviews. It is easier
when you are only looking at the water companies and at the end
of pipes they are producing but as we go forward and look at catchments
we have to integrate the whole thing. There are two issues that
arise from your question, one is, have we got the mechanisms to
make sure those are fairly identified and to the extent that when
costs are calculated in relation to benefits and a view can be
taken they are disproportionate how is that implemented and how
are disproportionate tests applied to water companies and to farmers
who are very different people, with very different income streams,
with very different institutional arrangements and whose costs
impact on the rest of us in different ways. We do not know the
answer to that but we realised a long time ago delivery was going
to be a big issue, which is why in your constituency we did the
exercise on the river estuary and we produced the Report referred
to in our evidence. That is not the end of the story because we
now have to start teasing out some of the issues and demonstrating
there are quite complicated trade-offs even amongst agriculture.
There are different scenarios for agriculture managers that would
lead to different ways of doing it, a combination of incentives,
of subsidy and they all have different outcomes.
257. You very eloquently described the problem,
and I do not disagree with your analysis, coming back to the question
I asked earlier about the grand management plan, you described
problems that need to be solved, when do you plan to solve them?
(Dr Skinner) The point I would want to make first
is that River Basin Plan and the actions that comes from it are
the way in which that issue is debated and some degree of consensus
is achieved. There are complicated trade-offs here, that is why
I think not everyone would be happy. The first point is that for
the first time the kind of issue I am debating would be done in
a more transparent way than we currently do. We as the competent
authority would have to use the levers that are provided to us
and there again we must look to government, to DEFRA, to provide
some of those frameworks. DEFRA have committed themselves to doing
a reevaluation of the costs in the current consultation documentto
answer your first pointsuch as we do not have numbers that
we do not believe being attributed to this Directive. We need
to distinguish between whole costs and extra costs because some
of the benefits, particularly in terms of those arising from water
company activities, are already being dealt with through the current
price review. I have not answered the question because I do not
know all of the answers because we are at a very early stage.
We do have the issues listed. We have had good stakeholder involvement
in these economic issues and we need to take that forward.
258. Coming back to the subject of our first
evidence session, which was public consultation, one of the things
that the public will be interested to know about, whatever way
you describe the public, is what it is going to mean to them in
terms of what they have to pay, which is why I asked the question
when do you think some of the work will be concluded? We have
to talk to members of public, we as members of Parliament could
get a lot of representations from concern wherever because they
want to participate in public discussion of what they are prepared
to pay for, so they will need to know what they are going to get,
what their obligations are and how much they are going to have
to pay. When are we going to get meaningful consultation? When
will be public get a feel for this cost exercise?
(Dr Skinner) That discussion cannot start now in catchment
specific detail because we have yet not characterised the catchments,
we have not specified the threshold for the standards and until
that is done the costs cannot be enumerated. We have the time
and that is why we have already started the work to devise the
mechanisms which will present those figures and they will have
to be presented in the river basins plans because that is only
way that the judgment can be made and preference expressed and
decisions about disproportionate costs made, but not now, that
is not until 2008 on the first cycle plans.
259. Does this mean we are going to have to
have a much more sophisticated menu of prices for the use of and
the disposal of water and waste water? Are you going to be able
to manipulate the water pricing mechanism to assist in the implementation
of the Directive, is it going to be very different? You said earlier
we have to use the tools that we have, what happens if you discover
the tools that you have are not adequate for the job in trying
to turn on or turn off problems in terms of the Directive.
(Dr Skinner) One of the key players here is going
to be the Director General of OFWAT, those are his tools. As we
already said, we do not think that the present five year cycle
of existing tools is going to be the way in which this business
will be done as we go into delivering the Framework Directive.
It is early days, but we have already had those discussions and
I expect those to go forward.
(Baroness Young) We should not give the impression
the majority of the Water Framework Directive will be met by water
charge payers. One of the ways in which the public may pay is
if they buy a house in an urban development where sustainable
urban drainage systems have been part of that development to prevent
pollution and flood risk and it is a small part of the cost of
the house that they buy. They will be paying for this in a whole
variety of ways. We need to have a debate round the River Basin
Plan that allows people to discuss whether the measures proposed
are legitimate and value for money but then the mechanisms by
which they will be paying for it will be a whole plethora of things.
I would not want to alarm water customers that they are suddenly
going to see their bills shoot up as a result of this, beyond
what we need have in terms of debate in the next water price round,
which is, the public do want to see cleaner rivers, they do want
to see biodiversity and they have indicated in the opinion polls
that have been done they are willing to pay for it.