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 (www.euwfd.com) 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.
CRITIQUE BY THE FOUNDATION FOR WATER RESEARCH
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
"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 itto 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.
EU WATER FRAMEWORK
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
(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.
8 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
CIS Guidance Document No 8 clearly states that
the key public participation provision of the Directive is prescribed
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 issuesan
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
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
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 www.euwfd.com
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