Select Committee on European Union Written Evidence

Letter from Rob Hitchin (DEFRA) to the Clerk of the Committee


  Thank you for giving Defra the opportunity to comment on the letter sent from the Foundation for Water Research (FWR) to the Committee which is critical of the evidence provided to the Committee on the role of public participation under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD).

  I understand that the Environment Agency have written separately to set out their views of the concerns raised by FWR.

  From the perspective of Defra I would like to set out some of the efforts and initiatives we are taking to ensure that the requirements of the WFD regarding public participation (under Article 14) are being implemented at the national (England) level.

  Since 2002 Defra has chaired a National Stakeholder Forum for England on the WFD which meets every three to four months. It comprises over 40 national organisations covering a broad range of sectors on interests including agriculture, industry, ports and navigation, environmental Non Governmental Organisations, anglers, fisheries, energy and research institutions. FWR are also members. The Forum allows Defra and the Environment Agency to provide regular updates on the progress in WFD implementation in England, UK and at EU level. It also allows national stakeholders to put across the views and concerns of their membership so that Defra and the EA can take on board these views at an early stage. Parallel arrangements exist in respect of the WFD Article 17 Groundwater Directive and the WFD Article 16 proposal on quality standards for Priority List dangerous substances.

  There are also two sub-groups of the WFD Stakeholder Forum that have been established on economics and communication of the WFD to wider audiences. The former meets several times a year to provide input into the development and implementation of the economic tools and analysis that are central to the successful implementation of the WFD. The latter meets on an ad hoc basis and proved extremely useful in helping DEFRA and the EA communicate the initial results of the river basin characterisation exercise in 2004 to a wider audience (which also received coverage in national newspapers and radio).

  Stakeholder engagement throughout the Defra led Collaborate Research Programme on River Basin Management Planning Economics for the WFD (CRP) has also been central to its work from the start with several national organisations contributing funds to the Programme. Major national workshops on the CRP and WFD economic analysis generally—open to any interested parties—have also taken place annually in an attempt to disseminate more widely the findings and methodologies that are emerging on cost-effectiveness analysis, disproportionate cost analysis and benefits assessment.

  The Defra led (together with Welsh Assembly Government) preliminary Cost-Effectiveness Analysis (pCEA) work currectly taking place in England (and Wales) is actively involving key sectors and stakeholders that use and benefit from the water environment through the establishment of sector working groups. These groups are tasked with working up the potential costs associated with national measures that could help meet WFD objectives. A wider workshop is planned in coming months to disseminate the findings to a wider national audience.

  Defra also chairs other national level stakeholder for a covering components of WFD implementation which include those on Catchment Sensitive Farming (both policy development and delivery) and non-agricultural diffuse pollution.

  The Committee may also wish to note that 30 Catchment Steering Groups have been established under the England Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Iniative. Their main function is to bring together input from Natural England, the Environment Agency and local stakeholders including farmers to inform activity in the catchments. Water companies, nature conservation bodies and farming sector representatives are members of these groups.

  Defrs continue to provide frequent presentations on WFD implementation at various EU and national conferences, workshops and events with the aim of helping extend the understanding of this challenging and important Directive to a wider audience and how it can be used for ensuring the Government's objectives for the protection and enhancement of the water environment are met. For example we are working, alongside the EA and other UK competent authorities on the WFD, with the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) who are organising a UK conference on WFD Implementation in London on 26 June.

  In addition, there are the formal requirements of Article 14 of the WFD which include the requirement for a timetable and work programme for the production of the river basin management plan, including consultation on a statement of the consultation measures to be taken. (In England EA are fulfilling this through their current consultations on "Working Together" being undertaken in each River Basin District); consultation on an interim overview of the significant water management issues identified in each river basin district (to be undertaken by EA this summer) and consultation on draft copies of the river basin district management plans (to be issued by the EA by 22 December 2008).

  Defra (and WAG) have also provided statutory guidance to the EA in the form of our River Basin Planning Guidance (August 2006). Chapter 11, Working in Partnership, of the guidance states that the EA should set up River Basin District Liaison Panels and the chapter also provided guidance as to what these panels should do. In addition chapter 11 provides guidance on other types of partnership working and dispute resolution, involving Ministers, if necessary.

  I hope that by outlining some of the significant efforts we are making to ensure full stakeholder and public participation, the Committee will be reassured that we are doing a great deal to actively meet the public participation requirements of the WFD.

30 April 2007

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