Select Committee on European Union Written Evidence

Letter from David R Woods, Chairman of the Foundation for Water Research to Lord Sewel

  I hope you do not mind me writing to you directly, but my attention has been drawn to evidence given to the Select Committee (Sub Commiittee D) on the subject of public participation and the Water Framework Directive by Baroness Young and Ian Pearson (17 and 24 January 2007) respectively.

  I attach a critique of their statements on the Directive requirements for public participation since I fear that, at least in England and Wales, these will not be met by the current arrangements put in place by Defra and the Environment Agency.

  The Scots are much more enlightened on this matter as are those in the Irish Republic.

  At the Foundation for Water Research, an independent registered charity, we have invested heavily in providing information to the general public through our Water Framework Directive Information Centre ( You may find the subject matter enlightening.

  I believe that action is needed now if the UK is to avoid the embarrassment of failing to comply with the public participation aspects of this Directive.



  A key statement, made by Baroness Young on 17 January 2007 in relation to public participation in the implementation of the EU Water framework Directive was as follows:

    "I would like to put a nail through the heart of this public participation thing right from the start, because there is a lot of loose talk about it."

  Well there certainly is a lot of talk about it, the official WFD Common Implementation Strategy Document (No.8) runs to over 200 pages, but she will have to ask her EA representative on the drafting group as to whether, or not, its just loose talk.

  The Baroness goes on to say that:

    "The Directive actually guides us to make sure that the people who need to be involved because they can deliver are participating, and that the public are informed."

  Then she states that:

    "To spend a lot of money trying to get the intricacies of the Water Framework Directive over to the man in the street, when he has already told us he does not want to know, seems to me not what we are about. I want action. I do not want discussion."

    "I would rather spend more money on getting river basins better than making sure that all 60 million people in Britain know their water catchments and know what is going on in it—to be frank."

  The statement by Ian Pearson on 24 January 2007 was in response to a question by Lord Graves concerning whether the arrangements for wider participation in the implementation of the Directive would meet its requirements in this matter.

  Ian Pearson stated that:

    "We believe it (the EA) will ensure that the delivery of the public participation requirements of the Water Framework Directive will be met."

  Despite their claims, the statements of both Baroness Young and Ian Pearson appear to fall far short of he requirements of the Directive itself and the WFD CIS Document 8 that Member States are to follow in setting up public participation.


  Consider first the Directive Preambles that are intended to put into context Article 14.

  Preamble 14 states that:

    The success of this Directive depends on close cooperation and coherent action at Community, Member State and local level as well as information, consultation and involvement of the public; including users.

  Preamble 46 states that:

    To ensure the participation of the general public including users of water in the establishment and updating of river basin management plans, it is necessary to provide proper information of planned measures and to report on progress with their implementation with a view to the involvement of the general public before final decisions on the necessary measures are adopted.

  These Preambles clearly set the context in which Article 14 was intended to be viewed.

  Article 14 states that:

  1.   Member States shall encourage the active involvement of all interested parties in the implementation of this Directive, in particular in the production, review and updating of the river basin management plans. Member states shall ensure that, for each river basin district, they publish and make available for comment to the public, including users:

    (a)  a timetable and work programme for the production of the plan, including a statement of the consultation measures to be taken, at least three years before the beginning of the period to which the plan refers;

    (b)  an interim overview of the significant water management issues identified in the river basin, at least two years before the beginning of the period to which the plan refers;

    (c)  draft copies of the river basin management plan, at least one year before the beginning of the period to which the plan refers.

  On request access shall be given to background documents and information used of the development of the draft river basin management plan.

  2.   Member States shall allow at least six months to comment in writing on these documents in order allow active involvement and consultation.

  3.   Paragraphs 1 and 2 shall apply equally to updated river basin management plans.


  CIS Guidance Document No 8 clearly states that the key public participation provision of the Directive is prescribed as:

    —    Active Involvement in all aspects of the implementation of the Directive, especially, but not limited to, the planning process;

    —    Consultation in three steps of the planning process; and

    —    Access to background information.

  The document further states that the Directive requires more than just consultation, in addition, the active involvement of the public (including specific stakeholders) in the implementation of the Directive has to be encouraged and access has to be given to background information.


  It would appear that the majority of the loose talk about public participation and the Water Framework Directive emanates from the Baroness herself.

    —    Contrary to her assertions the Directive does require public participation in the development of river basin management plans and public consultation before the plans are finalised. It is insufficient to just announce what the plans are and then to give periodic updates on progress — this approach is commonly known as "mushroom-management."

    —    It is interesting to note that Preamble 14 tags on "users" as a sub-set of the public, whereas the EA Consultation Panels at river basin level exclusively comprise users (stakeholders). The term "stakeholder" implies some financial interest in the river basin. The real "stakeholders" are, of course, the general public who through water charges, taxation and higher commodity prices, will finance the river basin management plans. Of course it is important to consult with those bodies that can smooth the development and implementation of the river basin plans, but to disregard the general public in the way the Baroness suggests is both insulting and potentially dangerous.

    —    We are unaware of any research on public attitudes to the social economic and environmental impact of the Water Framework Directive and are unable to comment directly concerning the Baroness's references to public preferences regarding the level of information and involvement. However, we are well aware of public opinion concerning increases in utility prices. Perhaps the EA could make available its research findings concerning likely pubic reaction to the costed river basin management plans and their impact on their pockets.

    —    The Baroness's attitude to public education on environmental matters is revealing. The Water Framework Directive is the most important piece of European legislation on the water environment to date and will set the pattern for water management for decades to come. It provides an ideal opportunity to engage the general public in water environment issues—an opportunity the EA clearly intends to miss.

    —    Ian Pearson indicates that the public participation requirements of the Directive will be met by the consultation arrangements put in place by the Defra/EA. These arrangements comprise a National Panel and a Panel for each river basin district involving stakeholders who represent only a small sub-set of the general public. Furthermore, these stakeholders have vested interests in specific outcomes for the plans. The river basins themselves are huge in terms of area and population and consultation at this level denies the opportunity to discuss the river basin needs on a sub-catchment basis with those who live within them.

    —    Neither the Baroness nor Ian Pearson mention the prescriptive nature of the Directive that makes quite clear what must be done to provide appropriate river basin management. Despite this prescriptive nature, communication with the public is essential. With a higher proportion of the population enjoying graduate or equivalent status it is insulting to suggest that the Directive is too technically complicated.

    —    Finally, it is indeed fortunate that EA jurisdiction does not, as the Baroness implies, extend to north of the border. SEPA and the Scottish Executive have taken a much more enlightened approach to public participation and consultation, bringing its consultation mechanism down to local, sub-catchment level.


  It is asserted that the mechanisms for public participation by the EA in England and Wales fall short of the requirements of Water Framework Directive and the official CIS Guidance Document.

  Proper mechanisms should urgently be put in place to avoid embarrassing failure to comply with this requirement.


  Those interested in any aspect of the EU Water Framework Directive will find answers to many of their questions on the internet at

  This web-site is primarily financed by the Foundation for Water Research, a registered charity that has invested some £400,000 from its own resources in its development so as to educate the public concerning the provisions and implementation of the Water Framework Directive.

13 March 2007

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