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15 Jan 2003 : Column 613W—continued

Private Sewers

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions have taken place in the last six months between departmental officials and the Director General of OFWAT on the issue of the adoption of private sewers, with particular reference to the next price round. [89671]

Mr. Morley: OFWAT is involved in the steering group managing the work to establish the number, age, extent and condition of private sewers being undertaken by WS Atkins for my Department. This will contribute

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to a consultation exercise on private sewers due to commence in the spring of 2003. Once the steering group has considered the response to that consultation, WS Atkins will then produce a final report, with recommendations. OFWAT will consider any effect on water bills as part of its periodic review of water price limits.

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what difficulties have been encountered by W. S. Atkins and her Department in identifying the location and the state of repair of private sewers; and what progress has been made. [89675]

Mr. Morley: W. S. Atkins have carried out a number of field studies at locations in England and Wales to validate the information contained in the postal surveys they undertook to try to establish the number, age, extent and condition of private sewers. A consultation paper will be issued by the Department in the spring which will contain the outcome of this work, including any difficulties they have discovered, and will seek views on possible solutions.

Pesticides

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what studies she has commissioned into the Voluntary Initiative programme to minimise the environmental impact of pesticides; what the terms of reference are; which body has been commissioned to undertake the studies; what the anticipated cost to the Department is; when she expects to receive the results; when they will be published; and if she will make a statement. [86748]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 11 December 2002]: The Government are committed to minimising the adverse environmental impact of pesticide use, consistent with adequate crop protection. A voluntary agreement on measures to reduce the environmental damage caused by pesticides was entered into by the industry and other stakeholders in April 2001. Provided the Voluntary Initiative is fully implemented, it should reduce the environmental impacts of pesticides and the Government remain committed to this approach. However, the Government are carrying out further work and analysis on a possible tax or other economic instrument, should the Voluntary Initiative fail to deliver its objectives within a reasonable timescale.

The study referred to in the question has not yet been commissioned. Officials are in the process of commissioning work to develop a framework to enable subsequent assessment of the Voluntary Initiative. This will complement the indicators and targets put together by the Voluntary Initiative Steering Group and will, in particular, enable a comparison of the environmental benefits of the Voluntary Initiative and of a possible pesticides tax. The study is intended to be completed by the summer and will subsequently be published.

Pollution (Bassenthwaite)

Tony Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) if she will instruct English Nature to prepare a report on the health, breeding and distribution of brown trout, sea

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trout, salmon and other fish resident in Bassenthwaite Lake and the river system feeding the lake and flowing from it; [88350]

Mr. Morley: The statutory bodies that are principally responsible for water quality, species, pollution, and flora & fauna protection are the Environment Agency, English Nature and the Lake District National Park Authority.

The Environment Agency is responsible for enforcing statutory controls on the entry of pollutants to controlled waters, and has specific duties in relation to protecting aquatic species. It is also the co-ordinator for the Bassenthwaite Lake Restoration Project that was set up last year to ensure an integrated approach to tackling the complex, longstanding pressures on the lake.

All public bodies have a statutory duty to to take reasonable steps, consistent with the exercise of their functions, to further the conservation and enhancement of the features for which the lake has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Since the lake forms part of the River Derwent and Bassenthwaite Lake candidate Specal Area of Conservation, further duties on all statutory authorities in exercising their functions must have due regard to the requirements of the Habitats Directive.

Given its central role in the restoration programme and its duties in relation to fisheries, the Environment Agency is best placed to report on the health, breeding and distribution of fish species. The Derwent Salmon Action Plan consultation document contains information on the salmon population status in the Derwent catchment for the period 1990 to 2000. For most years the population achieved a considerable surplus over its conservation target. The most recent reliable data (for 2000) shows that the population level was almost double the conservation limit, indicating the population to be in very good health.

There is less information on the status of species in the lake but available evidence suggests that the Vendace population is low. This is thought to be due to siltation of their spawning grounds and competition and predation from alien species, probably introduced by anglers. Recent bye-laws regulating the use of dead and

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live bait will control further introductions. The Environment Agency will be pleased to supply further information.

The Agency can also supply details of permitted discharges. The condition of the lake is considered stable owing to improvements to Keswick sewage treatment works. Planned investment should deliver further improvements. The Environment Agency will consider what further improvements may be necessary for the investment period 2005–2010 and is carrying out a study to assess the potential for removal of phospherus in the lakebed sediment. Discharges of untreated sewage are very dilute and not thought to add significantly to the overall nutrient load.

Diffuse sources of phosphorus and sediment pollution need to be addressed. Action under the restoration programme will need to include research to identify sources and causes of erosion and siltation; physical improvements to infrastructure including sewerage systems, farmsteads and highways; and improvements to agricultural practice through education and awareness campaigns.

Occurrences of blue green algal blooms have been recorded on: 4 December 1998; 1 May 2000; 19 September 2000; and 20 September 2002. Controlling the total amount of phosphorus entering the lake will help to limit loads overall may reduce the frequency and extent of all types of algal bloom but will not eliminate them entirely sicne they are a natural feature of this type of lake and form as a result of the interaction of a number of variables including climatic conditions, lake chemistry, wind speed and hours of sunlight.

Flood and Coastal Defence Funding Review

Mr. Sayeed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what decision has been made on reviewing the project appraisal guidance to ensure that social and environmental issues are addressed following the Flood and Coastal Defence Funding Review; [90813]

Mr. Morley: I expect to announce conclusions on the Flood and Coastal Defence Funding Review as soon as possible.

However, the arrangements for prioritising Defra's funding of flood and coastal defence capital works have already been revised to take more specific account of Xpeople" and environmental issues. For schemes considered for approval from April 2003, the priority scores will be based on economics, Xpeople" issues and environmental protection and enhancement.

With regard to a minimum standard of flood defence, we currently operate on the basis of permissive powers, which allows the Environment Agency and other operating authorities to take action where it is

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considered justifiable against a range of criteria. This allows taxpayers' money to be spent where it is most needed, an approach overwhelmingly supported by respondents to our consultation on the review.


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