Previous Section Index Home Page


Water Framework Directive

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Government is today laying regulations 1 before Parliament which transpose the Water Framework Directive in England and Wales. Defra is also publishing on the Defra web-site a final Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) 2 as well as a summary of the views of those who commented on the most recent consultation on the Directive, and a Government response to their comments 3 .

The regulations provide the framework for delivery of the Directive's demanding environmental objectives. The quality of rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwaters must be protected and enhanced by 2015. In addition, wetlands depending on groundwater must be safeguarded and water related requirements of other Community legislation taken into account.

All this action must be integrated into packages of measures and plans based on river basins, which must be drawn up with full public participation.

11 Dec 2003 : Column 100WS

The regulations comprise one set covering England and Wales (which have already been approved by the National Assembly for Wales) and a further set covering the Northumbria river basin district which crosses slightly over the England/Scotland border.

Transposition is only the first step

The Water Framework Directive is of exceptional importance in setting the objectives for our policies towards the water environment for years to come. The Government is fully committed to these objectives. Transposition of the Directive through these regulations is a significant stage in its implementation. But it is important to recognise that it is only one step along the road. Full implementation will depend on a wide range of further decisions and actions to be taken over the coming years. The transposition regulations should be seen as enabling and requiring these further steps to take place. But they are by no means all that is needed to put the directive into practice. Key issues, as currently envisaged, on which further decisions and action will be needed, in order to achieve this, are summarised in the annex.

The overall effect of the regulations is that in England, the Secretary of State has ultimate responsibility for the Directive's implementation; this responsibility includes:

an explicit role in approving environmental objectives, programmes of measures and river basin management plans;

the power to issue guidance to the Agency and other relevant bodies, to which they are bound to have regard.

The Environment Agency has responsibility to:

Characterise river basin districts;

Identify bodies of water used for the abstraction of drinking water;

Prepare, review and keep up to date a register of protected areas for each river basin district;

Establish programmes to monitor water status, so as to establish an overview of water status within each river basin district;

Prepare and submit to the 'appropriate authority' (i.e. Secretary of State and/or National Assembly for Wales) environmental objectives for each body of water and programmes of measures;

Prepare and submit to the appropriate authority a river basin management plan for each district (including consultation, publicity and taking account of views) and supplementary plans.

11 Dec 2003 : Column 101WS

The Government has greatly appreciated the input made through the comments of those who have responded to consultation. The Government is setting out its response to them today on the Defra website. A very wide range of comments were received and a wide range of changes have been made to the draft regulations published in August this year. These include revisions to provisions dealing with programmes of measures, river basin management plans, public participation and publication of information.

A framework for action

The regulations set the framework for further implementation action by both the Government and the Environment Agency, as competent authority for the Directive. There is much more action to come. The regulations achieve transposition; but the Government will be building on the regulations by bringing forward a range of proposals dealing with such issues as controls on diffuse pollution, River Basin Management Plan guidance and the development of a Water Framework Directive communications strategy.

Discussions continue in Brussels on linked proposals for new Directives on groundwater and priority substances, building on Water Framework Directive requirements. Further work is underway at Community level to develop guidance packages to support implementation of the Directive. The UK will continue actively to support such work, including through its pilot river basin scheme based on the river Ribble in the North-West. The regulations need to be seen therefore in the context of this further future action.

Key early actions

The EA, as competent authority in England and Wales, will consult in 2004 on a public participation strategy. This will in turn inform the formal mechanisms that will ensure full and proper participation of wider society at the river basin level. It is not just the Government that must ensure that all are aware of and fully engaged in this process—there is also an important role for all agencies and organisations that wish to see a better quality water environment. To this end Defra and the EA are already developing, in close consultation with stakeholders, a WFD communication strategy for England to raise awareness of both the WFD and water quality issues.

The benefits and opportunities the Directive will provide—economic and social regeneration, biodiversity, integration of land-use and sectoral planning, flood management, fisheries/marine, health and amenity—must be explained and seized upon. For its own part the Government has instituted much of this integration within its own structures already, building on the principles outlined in its 2002 statement of priorities for water policy, "Directing the Flow". This will continue, as will the focus on delivery at the regional and sub-regional level.

Meeting the good ecological and chemical status requirements in the directive will be a challenge. A key analysis of impacts of human activity on water bodies must be completed by December 2004. Diffuse pollution from agricultural and urban sources will need to be tackled as a priority to meet the Directive's objectives, as well as further reductions in point source discharges. The costs of the measures required to meet "good status" will need to be apportioned to water users and

11 Dec 2003 : Column 102WS

other sectors in a transparent and rational way. A robust economic analysis is a core requirement of this Directive and will ensure that the benefits of the measures employed justify the costs involved. (Defra will assess the scope for updating the final RIA from 2005). Costs must, as far as possible, adhere to the polluter pays principle. Defra is leading this analysis in England, in conjunction with Ofwat and the Environment Agency. The results will underpin the identification of the most effective suite of measures be they regulatory, fiscal, incentive or voluntary. Each of these measures will be formulated with the full engagement of the wider public both within the auspices of the WFD stakeholder forum for England and at the regional and local level through the active

Helping to carry forward the directive with the wider water agenda

Alongside action to carry forward implementation of the requirements of the Directive through these regulations, the Government will actively be pursuing linked actions, consistent with the overall policy objectives of "Directing the Flow" and the aims and spirit of the Directive.

These will include: work to carry forward and implement the provisions of the Water Act 2003 that will

Annex—Key further decisions and action likely to be taken in the implementation of the WFD

(Note: all key decisions will be subject to prior consultation with stakeholders)

2004Defra consults on measures to tackle diffuse pollution from agriculture, and on priorities for action to tackle urban diffuse pollution. Consultation on diffuse pollution regulatory enabling powers.
1st phase of characterisation of water bodies (including identification of heavily modified water bodies), review of environmental impacts and pressures and economic analysis for each river basin district completed. (This will be refined from 2005 onwards).
Defra completes economic analysis work necessary for 2004 on cost recovery, economic importance and dynamics of water use and the preparation of a methodology for cost effective analysis.
WFD communications strategy for England launched.
EA consults on draft strategy for River Basin Planning (RBP) including public participation.
Defra assesses need to amend WFD regulations to include further bodies under a duty to exercise relevant functions so as to secure compliance with the requirements of the Directive
Defra/Scottish Executive assess whether further regulatory provisions needed for England/Scotland cross border river basin districts
Defra assesses adequacy of existing powers to ensure hydromorphological conditions are consistent with meeting water status objectives
2004 Periodic Review of Water Price Limits sets the investment by water companies to improve water quality and water resource management for the period 2005–10. This will deliver substantial environmental quality improvements that will help achieve "good status".
EA completes register of WFD "protected areas" with input from others including English Nature and Countryside Council for Wales.
Establishment of arrangements for linkage between Strategic Environmental Directive and WFD.
EU Environment Council consideration of daughter directive on groundwater
EU Commission publishes proposals for daughter directive on priority substances
2005Defra consults on River Basin Planning (RBP) guidance to EA (including the scope and use of "supplementary plans")
Defra issues guidance to EA on RBP.
EA launches national RBP strategy, including plans for public participation and administrative structures.
2005 onwardsRefinement of characterisation to reduce uncertainty in risk assessments.
Assess scope for updating final RIA
2006Defra consults on and brings into force water status classification regulations.
Intercalibration results published by European Commission.
Formal monitoring of sites starts.
EA publish for consultation the timetable/work in progress for the production of each River Basin Management Plan (RBMP).
2007EA to publish and make available for comment an interim overview of significant issues identified for each RBMP.
Preparation of a prototype River Basin Management Plan and Programme of Measures for the Ribble Pilot.
2008EA to publish and make available for comment first round of draft RBMPs, including summaries of Programmes of Measures (PoMs) and other material specified in Annex VII of the WFD.
2009EA to publish finalised RBMPs, including summary of PoMs. After approval by SoS/NAW
Programmes of Measures established .
2012Programme of Measures operational.
2013Freshwater Fish, Shellfish, Groundwater, Surface Water Abstraction and (partly) Dangerous Substances Directives repealed by WFD.
2014EA to publish draft of second round of RBMPs for consultation
2015Environmental objectives of WFD met. PoMs reviewed and, if necessary, updated.
2015 onwardsRBMPs and PoMs reviewed every 6 years.

11 Dec 2003 : Column 104WS

Next Section Index Home Page