Select Committee on European Communities Eighth Report



The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

  18.    The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) generally welcomed the draft Directive's principal objectives of protecting the environment and preventing further deterioration of watercourses; they also endorsed the principles of integrated management by catchment area of surface and ground waters and the need for more efficient water use. Water quantity was just as important as water quality for maintaining aquatic ecosystems-a point not previously acknowledged in Commission proposals in this field. They cited examples from Greece, Spain and Scotland to illustrate the potential benefits of the framework Directive (Q 62).

  19.    Conspicuously lacking from the proposals were questions of flood defences and land drainage, which the RSPB saw as crucial to proper catchment management planning (Q 63). It should be made quite explicit that these, and impacts of other human activities, should be covered in the reviews of river basins required by Article 6 (p 15). Another deficiency was that of the various measures which river basin management authorities would address in their plans, demand management fell into the category of "supplementary" (i.e. discretionary) measures: the RSPB considered it should be a "basic" (i.e. mandatory) measure (Q 65). They had commissioned a study of the scope for tradeable permits in the water field, although they had reservations about their suitability: tradeable permits could have the effect of increasing abstractions unless the limits of sustainable supply had first been established. They took a stronger position than the Department on environmental cost recovery, which they considered should be mandatory (QQ 70-75).

  20.    To ensure consistency with sustainable development, more explicit reference was needed in the Directive to biodiversity planning, which should be reflected in environmental objectives, analyses of river basins, and management plans. Where catchments included "protected areas" (e.g. areas designated under the Birds and Habitats Directives[11]), the management plans should cover candidate areas as well as existing designations (p 14; Q 78). The Directive should also refer explicitly to the Communication on Wise Use and Conservation of Wetlands[12] (Q 83).

  21.    The RSPB was "slightly suspicious" of the Department's proposed expert group, which it feared might delay agreement on the Directive (QQ 86-88).

Other bodies

  22.    The Royal Town Planning Institute, whilst generally welcoming the proposals, felt that more attention should be given to the implications of global warming for coastal and estuarine flooding, and of new development for water supply (p 80). The Wildlife Trusts suggested that measures to reverse decline in and to enhance biodiversity should be mandatory (p 87). The World Wide Fund for Nature, whilst welcoming some positive aspects, felt the proposals had too many negative aspects to be able to meet the principal objective of protecting the environment: loose definitions (e.g. of "good" water status); lack of uniform emission standards; inadequate policy integration with other sectors; insufficient account taken of existing Community policies and international commitments; lack of common standards and methodologies, particularly for monitoring; and the lack of transparency and accountability inherent in the proposed "comitology" measure[13] (i.e. the delegation of much of the decision making and implementation to the proposed Management Committee) (pp 87, 93-4).


The Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency

  23.    Both Agencies strongly welcomed the draft Directive (QQ 100, 103). The Environment Agency (EA), however, outlined a number of aspects which called for improvement; more guidance was needed on how Member States should define and employ environmental objectives, particularly "good status"; the deadline of 2010 was too tight for many Member States-to avoid the risk of deterioration they should be permitted to determine priorities for tackling different types of water, using a "stepping stone" approach; the requirement to establish quality standards for all surface and ground waters used for drinking water seemed over-prescriptive; and it was essential to have comparability between Member States in monitoring régimes and quality assurance: there was a role here for the European Environment Agency (Q 149).

  24.    The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) favoured the introduction of controls over water abstraction as in England and Wales: at present these were lacking in Scotland. Ms Henton felt that the draft Directive did not fully integrate water with other policy areas, especially agriculture: SEPA would like to be in a position to ensure compliance with good agricultural practices, in order to tackle the problem of diffuse pollution. She agreed that the 2010 deadline could lead to pressure for inappropriate derogations. Although formal catchment management planning, as practised by the EA, did not exist in Scotland ("no one in authority has sufficient control of all the different aspects"), much could be achieved by co­operation and SEPA would prefer to retain the present flexible arrangements (QQ 103, 112).

  25.    The EA explained that at present Local Environment Agency Plans (LEAPs) were being prepared for some 130 river systems, mainly sub-basins of larger river catchment areas. How far these would need to be aggregated to comply with the requirements of the Directive was a question for further discussion. At present the wording of the draft appeared to leave an appropriate degree of flexibility, consistent with subsidiarity; but it was understood informally that the Commission was thinking in terms of 30-40 river basin plans across the whole of the European Union (QQ 105-11; pp 45-6).

  26.    On the points raised by the RSPB about wetlands and biodiversity, the EA felt it was important that the Directive should not lose focus: in their view "it should be limited to lakes, rivers, peripheral waters and ground water which have a direct effect on the ecosystem" (Q 115). If a catchment included a designated area with specialised requirements, the details of its management should be addressed under the specific Directive (Habitats or Birds) rather than in the plan prepared under the framework Directive. That was not to say that the presence of wetlands and protected habitats was not fundamental to catchment planning: it was purely a matter of detail (QQ 116-9). They confirmed that the LEAP process already met the requirement in Article 6 to review "the impact of human activity" on water status, and that the "other anthropogenic influences" (besides pollution and abstraction) to be covered in reviews would include the impacts of drainage, river canalization, flood relief schemes, management of wetlands and development for housing, industry, roads, etc. They had an open mind on whether this needed to be made more explicit in the Directive (Q 120).

  27.    The EA felt the Directive should give more guidance on what allowance should be made (applying the precautionary principle) for the impact of climate change (Q 129). More emphasis should be placed on management of water resources, perhaps through the use of economic instruments (QQ 130-2). Both the EA and SEPA agreed that full recovery of environmental costs was crucial to sustainability and were keen to contribute to DETR's review. For dealing with industrial water users they saw incentive-based charging schemes as a more promising approach than tradeable permits (Q 135).

  28.    Defining "good status" was fundamental-the biggest challenge being to agree ecological standards: this was a developing science, on which the EA had been working closely with WRc (Water Research Centre) and French counterparts (among others). They were confident that converging views would emerge-though it remained to be seen whether standards could be devised which would be applicable across the whole of the European Union (QQ 137-8). They agreed that the use of reference sites (as suggested by English Nature) should be explored (Q 139). Both agencies stressed the need for transparency in the workings of the Management Committee: its role needed clarifying (Q 142).

English Nature and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee

  29.    English Nature felt that implementation of the Directive would produce significant benefits for key habitats and species, and help to meet the targets in the United Kingdom's Biodiversity Action Plan[14]. Like other witnesses, they considered the definition of "good ecological status" would be crucial. Action should be targeted, in the first instance, to prevent deterioration of existing wildlife sites; and measures should be directed towards sustainable management of water resources. The proposed timescale was unrealistic and could be counter-productive in some Member States. Classification systems should be as simple as possible, and reference sites should be established for each type of aquatic ecosystem across Europe, to exemplify "good", "high" or "natural" ecological status. English Nature would like to be represented on the relevant expert working party considering definitions and monitoring arrangements (p 71). The Joint Nature Conservation Committee saw the Directive making a positive contribution to sustainable development and welcomed the emphasis it placed on protecting and enhancing aquatic ecosystems. They considered, however, that riparian and lakeside areas were integral components of aquatic systems and therefore should be included in catchment planning; they also pointed out a number of anomalies and uncertainties in the definitions of "status" in the present text (pp 72-3).

11   79/409/EEC, OJ No L103, 25 April 1979, p 1; 92/43/EEC, OJ No L206, 22 July 1992, p 7. Back

12   COM(95)189 final. Back

13   See paragraph 50 and footnote. Back

14   The plan required to be prepared by signatories of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, signed by the EC and its Member States at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (93/626/EEC, OJ No L309, 13 December 1993). Back

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