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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, in speaking to the amendment I should declare an interest as a Somerset county councillor. I believe that the quarry to which the noble Lord referred is situated
I still have in mind a question as to the fact that dewatering is, as the noble Lord said, a closed-cycle operation. The water is taken out and the same quantity is put back. I think that he said that it was of equivalent quality, not necessarily the same quality. I am not sure what the difference is. I do not know whether dewatering is defined anywhere as a closed cycle, so I am not sure what, if we agreed to the amendment, we would understand dewatering legally to be. I may have become more interested in exact definitions as we have worked our way through the Bill, and I believe that they are important.
In general principle, I have accepted the argument that we should require all people, whether trickle irrigators, water companies or quarries, to be brought within the licensing arrangements for the Bill. I am minded to stay with that position, except for the persuasive argument of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, that dewatering is a closed cycle. I still have certain reservations.
The Government are in a difficult position on the amendment, however. Dewatering is a closed cycle and so they might not want to accept the amendment, but every time we mention British Waterways, which wants some of its reservoirs to stay outside the system, the Government are minded to allow it to do so. They say that that is a closed-water system and that British Waterways will use only the water from those reservoirs to fill those canals and nothing else. A slight double standard would seem to be operating if the Government did not like the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, but did like those suggested by British Waterways.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the amendment presents another aspect of the problem that all those involved in the water industry face, as did one of my earlier amendments. The reality is that, as with the water industry itself, a long-term industry such as the quarrying industry has very distinctive and specialist long-term problems. Above all else, the quarrying industry is not a water consumer, generally speaking. It takes water from one place, where it is an obstruction to its work, and puts it back in another. It clearly cannot put it back in the same hole; were it to do so, that would be such a circular motion that it would never get any quarrying done.
The industry could presumably recharge the underground aquifer from which it abstracted the water at a safe distance so that it was not a problem, but I suspect that sometimes it uses surface disposal into a river or whatever. In the context of catchment-area management, which is one of the drivers for the changes in the licensing system proposed in the Bill,
The difference of treatment mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, as regards British Waterways is an interesting conjunction that I had not reached myself. It indicates that the Government ought to think a little carefully about how they treat the amendment and the noble Lord's other amendments. They warrant the most serious consideration. I know that we shall get all the assurances that we have had previously on the matter, but people like what they can see. It is not that they do not like something if they have to go to research it to find out about it; they might be jolly relieved when they find the answer. However, if we can put the answer where they can see it in the Bill, it would save everyone a great deal of trouble. I definitely support the amendment.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I shall begin, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, by dealing with the mechanism that he proposes in the amendment. I shall then move on to some of the issues that underlie his reason for tabling the amendment.
The amendment would completely remove from the Environment Agency and, incidentally, the Secretary of State on appeal, the responsibility for determining the key condition of the time limit to apply to transfer licences, but only those granted for dewatering activities. The duty would, in effect, be transferred to planning authorities, which are not set up to deal with it. Indeed, there is no statutory requirement for a planning authority to give effect to the Environment Agency's recommendations on the matter.
I acknowledge that the noble Lord is right that the agency is a statutory consultee for planning applications, but there is no requirement for the agency's views to be incorporated by the planning authority. If it is right that a transfer licence should initially be granted for a fixed period to deal with the uncertainties facing us in water resources management, that is the decision that should be arrived at, whoever takes it. The amendment may assume, of course, that the planning authority would in some way take less heed of the implied significance of its decision for water resources when deciding the appropriate duration of the planning permission. Alternately, it could imply that the duration of planning permission should be shorter for water resources reasons. Neither of those can be right. Each case must be considered on its merits.
The amendment would confuse responsibilities between the two regulatory regimes, which were set up for entirely different purposes. We agree that there must be liaison and co-operation between them. That already exists and works well. However, it cannot be right that the responsibilities of the planning regime are effectively removed and given to the other regime in just one particular aspect and for only one particular industry. Most, if not all, industries are subject to more than one regulatory regime, and we have to learn to deal with that.
The issue underlying the amendment is, of course, the question of the initial investment uncertainties if a transfer licence is shorter than the intended life of the quarry. We recognise the concerns of my noble friend Lord Berkeley and those that my noble friend Lord Borrie raised on previous occasions. We recognise that there are genuine and important concerns, but the problem is not insurmountable, and it is not entirely peculiar to the quarrying industry.
As we sought to do in Grand Committee, I can reassure the noble Lord that quarry and mine operators will have the same opportunities as all other abstractors to submit to the Environment Agency a business case in support of their applications, addressing issues relating to the proposed life of the initial licence to be granted. The time restriction on the operation would form part of such a submission, and the agency would have proper regard to it, as would the Secretary of State on any appeal. I hope that the noble Lord will accept the arguments against the mechanism that he proposes in the amendment.
With regard to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley, the position of mining and quarrying companies will be no different from that of industrial abstractors, in so far as local effects on the water environment are concerned. We recognise that they are not net consumers of water, although it is not unusual for the water taken out of the ground to be returned to a nearby stream. As far as concerns the groundwater resource, that may be a total loss. Quarry dewatering is achieved by pumping groundwater, as noble Lords have said, to enable dry working of the quarry. The water is usually put back into surface streams. Therefore, it may be a total loss to the groundwater resources.
Moreoverand this was one of the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domerthere is potential for significant adverse effects on adjacent groundwater sources and dependent features, such as springs, wetland, and SSSIs. In some circumstances where the acquifer generally may be already over-committed, especially in the future with climate change, it could reduce the availability of scarce resources for others.
However, we recognise that there may be circumstances where we need to consider the concerns of the noble Lord. I understand that a visit to a quarry has been arranged with a view to considering such issues. If it would be helpful, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that a meeting could be arranged following that visit, and before Third Reading, to see whether we are able to come closer to reassuring him.
I stress, yet again, that where there is a reasonable requirement that depends upon the abstraction of water, a licence will generally be granted, provided only that the rights of other users and the environment are adequately protected. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. Where that is the case,
Reference has been made to British Waterways' reservoirs. I should point out that not all dewatering is a closed system. Indeed, as I have already said, there may be a loss from groundwater into streams. We are exempting only transfers from British Waterways' reservoirs to British Waterways' canals where they are for navigation and not other purposes. British Waterways' use is for productive purposes, whereas, in the case of dewatering, it is a by-product of the industrial activity taking place.
I have sought to answer the noble Lord's concerns, though I suspect he may wish to seek a meeting with officials between now and Third Reading. In the mean time, I hope that he feels reassured enough not to press his amendment today.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, the noble Baroness said that British Waterways' water is for "productive purposes", but I would suggest that it is a matter of keeping a canal going so that barges can travel up and down it. Surely a quarry exists also for productive purposes, with the watering being an essential means of achieving those aims. What is the difference?
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