Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
Baroness Young of Old Scone, Ms Tricia Henton and
Ms Aileen Kirmond
17 JANUARY 2007
Q1 Chairman: First of all, thank you very much
indeed for coming along and helping the Committee as it looks
at what flows from the Water Framework Directive. I wonder, Baroness
Young, whether you could introduce your team? I should just make
clear that the light is on, saying that we are broadcasting. It
means that it is going out to a potential audience of millions.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Or, in actual fact,
fourand one of them is my mother!
Q2 Chairman: There is a potential
clearly for a public audience out there to listen to what you
have to say. Perhaps you would like to make introductions and
make an initial statement, or get straight on to the questions.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: May I introduce
Tricia Henton, who is our Director of Environmental Protection,
and Aileen Kirmond, whose title I have not a clue about because
she has just changed.
Ms Kirmond: I was the Programme Manager for
the Water Framework Directive, but I am now Acting Head of Land
Qualityof three days!
Baroness Young of Old Scone: They do have a
link, in that the Water Framework Directive is a misnamed directive;
it should be the "Land Framework Directive", because
it is mostly about what happens on the land.
Q3 Chairman: About an hour ago, the
water was taking over the land at a rapid rate!
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Could I make a
brief initial statement, because I think that the Water Framework
Directive runs the risk of being oversold. It is an incredibly
useful framework for long-term thinking about both land and water
management and will give an extremely useful framework for a whole
variety of actors: ourselves, water companies, local authorities,
farmers, government; but it is a framework. We do not have very
much new money to implement it, and much of it will be required
to be delivered through our existing powers. We are therefore
asking everyone to see it as a framework and not to load everything
on it, because it is quite a big instrument and, if we try to
overload it, it will sink under the weight of its own complexity
and bureaucracy. There is a very strong flavour in the directive
of being understandable by the people who need to play a role.
That is one of the important things we want to do: to make it
understandable by people who are not of the anorak and techie
disposition. A lot of the work that we will be doing is to make
things happen in the first cycle, but also, in successive cycles,
to have identified in the first cycle what needs to happen thereafter.
Q4 Chairman: That is very reassuring.
I wonder if I could kick off with a really bring-us-up-to-date
question. Give us an idea on progress of implementation of the
directive, what has happened so far and whether the timetable
is reasonable and being stuck to.
Ms Henton: To date, the UK has met all its statutory
requirements. We have done that either on time or indeed ahead
of time sometimes. That has been due to a lot of hard work by
both ourselves and Defra. We work jointly, very closely, with
Defra on this, but there is still an awful lot to do and a lot
of deadlines to meet. However, our view is that at the moment
we are on plan to meet the deadlines. As an example of the sorts
of things that we have already achieved on time, obviously the
directive has been transposed; that is in 2003. The Article 3
report, which is River Basin District boundaries and the allocation
of Competent Authority, was done on time, as was Article 5, which
was the River Basin District characterisation reports, which was
the first really big, chunky piece of work. The monitoring network
is now in place. That had to be in by December 2006 and that is
now in place. The rather lightly named Statement of Steps and
Consultation Measures consultation document was also issued in
December 2006. Those are some examples of how we have been moving.
Q5 Chairman: You are here and you
are responsible for England and Wales. We are sitting as a Committee
of the UK Parliament. In your answers to us, as far as you can,
could you highlight if there are any particular problems, difficulties,
or distinctiveness about matters relating to other parts of the
United Kingdom beyond England and Wales? For instance, in the
timetable, is that uniform across the United Kingdom? Is everybody
doing the same thing? And there are no particular problems anywhere
elsein Scotland or Northern Ireland?
Ms Henton: No, that is right. Obviously we work
very closely, particularly with SEPA, because we have one shared
boundary. So we have a River Basin District that straddles the
Solway/Tweed area. Although it has been implemented slightly differently
in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, all the major deadlines have
been met, because of course they are UK deadlines; so it is when
Defra reports to Europe.
Q6 Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer:
Clearly the key to a lot of the success of the directive will
be the definition of "good status", which varies from
water body to water body. I wonder if you could tell us a bit
about the progress you have made in whether or not good status
has been defined. It is one of the ongoing difficulties about
which I have heard from other organisations, in that it is not
yet defined, and some fear that perhaps there may be pressure
to lower the standard of "good status", in order to
make it more easily achievable.
Ms Kirmond: We can perhaps pick up something
there, in that it is a UK view of good status. So it is not just
the Agency's view of good status; we are working across the United
Kingdom to achieve that view. Yes, it is an ongoing process and
we do not have the final answer yet, because that is dependent
on some of the processes that are still happening in Europe. We
will not have an absolute definition of it until 2007, but that
does not mean that we do not already have a very good picture
of what that looks like. You are right: it is divided into different
elements. There is a chemical element of good status, which you
might perhaps call the traditional view of a pass/fail element.
There is a quantitative status, particularly relating to groundwater
in terms of good status. The innovation that the framework directive
brings, however, is the ecological status, which is very much
to do with what communities live in different types of water bodies.
So there will be a status position for each water body. It has
three elements that sit within it, therefore. We are working closely
with both our other environment agencies and our conservation
agencies and with the other administrations, to look at what good
status looks like. We are using our monitoring information as
an agency, as well as other people's monitoring information, to
get an indicative view of what good status will look like for
our water bodies. I think that the work we are doing with Europe
means that our current view is likely to accord well with the
European view. It is very much fitting in with the European picture.
We are working towards that indicative view at the minute, but
we will get the final calibration in 2007 when the final view
is taken in Europe.
Q7 Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer:
It is 2007 now.
Ms Kirmond: Yes. Towards the end of 2007. As
we mentioned earlier, there is a timetabling thing and there are
timetabling elements, as my colleague said, which means that only
certain things will be delivered at certain times.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Could I comment
on that from the timetabling point of view? Ideally we would want
this work to move as fast as possible, because obviously we are
getting on with planning the River Basin Management Plans. There
is a step, after Europe comes up with what it decides, when the
UK has to set regulations. We do need that to be done pretty promptly,
because the worst of all possible regulatory worlds is when regulations
arrive late in the day. We are getting quite close to the critical
point when we do need to get an outcome from this, and we do need
to get UK regulations laid pretty soon after that.
Q8 Chairman: Does this mean that
basically we have signed up, through the directive, to an obligation
to deliver good status? We have signed up to that objective before
we know what good status is?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: One of our pieces
of appraisal of the Water Framework Directive is that it actually
does talk about environmental outcomes. So many directives in
the past were about process rather than outcome. That is a good
tick in its box, therefore. However, yes, you are right. What
is good status? That is what the European process has to look
at, not least from the scientific point of view but ultimately
there will need to be some political view about what good status
looks like. The Framework Directive is a very flexible one, because
there is a bit of a feeling that everything has to be done by
2015. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is
that we will be able to hit some major milestones and make some
major progress in the way in which we manage land and its interface
with water by 2015, but there will still be a lot to do. To some
extent the Government has not been rash in signing up to something
the definition of which it does not know, because it then has
successive cycles to move towards these. Of course, there is the
cost-effectiveness test throughout; so that, if something clearly
is not cost-effective, it will not be met, because that test will
not have been fulfilled.
Q9 Lord Plumb: Could I ask a supplementary
which may sound a bit naive? I live in an area where the water
changes every so often because of the supply situation. We go
from hard to soft and from soft to hard. That causes a lot of
problems in homes where they feel they have to change their equipment,
because dealing with hard water is very different from dealing
with soft water. Is that part of the question we have, when looking
at the status of water?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I do not think
that we would be taking account of the impact on your washing
machine. We would be looking at the parameters that Aileen outlined,
of chemicals, resource level, supply, quantity and ecological
status. So I do not think that it would pick up some of these
natural, background-level contaminants in water which may render
it hard or soft and depending on where your water company is taking
it from. I would suggest that you need to talk to your water company
about their mixing policy, to see if you can get a more even spread
of some of these background substances in the water.
Q10 Lord Plumb: It is very strange,
but we are actually doing that this morning in my own district.
It is an important issue for a lot of locals, who do not quite
understand why, suddenly, they find the difference. I am really
asking whether, over a period of time, this is going to change.
The water authorities are obviously well aware of this and therefore
the water itself may well change through processing in different
Ms Kirmond: The Framework Directive very much
deals with what we see in the environment. It is an environmental
measure of hardness, of quantity, of quality; what subsequently
happens to it once it is taken, treated and used in the industrial
process of the water supplier. Obviously we do talk to the water
companies, and we are using quite a lot of their data. They do
quite a lot of monitoring in terms of their role as water suppliers,
but it does not extend to the consumer end of the tap.
Q11 Lord Palmer: Could I quickly
ask something? Again, it may be a very naive question. How many
different water companies are you actually dealing with?
Ms Kirmond: I think it is 27 water companies:
either water company only or water and sewerage.
Q12 Viscount Brookeborough: You have
already said at the beginning, as I understand, that by 2015 you
will have achieved what you are setting out to achieve and yet,
a couple of minutes ago, you said that of course it will depend
on certain other factors. How confident are you that you really
can achieve what is being laid down? There seemed to be a little
bit of doubt there.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I think that, with
a following wind and good collaboration with government, we can
achieve the timetable. We will have done everything we are supposed
to have done for the River Basin Plans being delivered and we
will have started on the measures to improve the water environment;
but we will not be in a situation in terms of good statuswhich
is judged on water bodies, not on whole catchmentswhere
every catchment is in a position where every water body, down
to the smallest that we will record, is in good condition. That
is for a variety of reasons. Some of these will be about the cost-benefit
test. If it is going to be a disproportionate cost to achieve
something, we will be making the arguments that that is not good
use of all of the players' monies. Some of them will be about
the technical and feasibility. We simply will not know by then
how you fix this problem and will be working on research in order
to establish that. Some of them are about lead times. Some of
the issues of groundwater contamination will take a very long
time to manage, because at the moment they have been happening
for a number of years, perhaps decades, and it will take similar
periods for that to work through the system or for us to find
ways of dealing with it. So all of those factors will influence
what can be delivered by 2015. 2015 is just the first cycle. We
have, during that process, identified other issues that need to
be tackled; identified what some of the problems are; done some
of the research. For the second and third cycles, therefore, we
will begin to tackle some of these more difficult, deep-seated
issues, with a view to building cyclically on the improvement
of the previous round.
Q13 Viscount Brookeborough: Is good
"good status" really the same as achieving environmental
Ms Kirmond: Its proper title is "good ecological
status". That would be a measure of true success.
Q14 Viscount Brookeborough: Therefore,
looking at your programme, what I do not quite understand is that
these river basins are being divided into first, second, third;
and, in your programme taken off the Web, some of what I understood
to be objectives that you were trying to achieve by 2015 are actually
by December 2021the second River Basin Management Plans
and the third River Basin Management Plans. I rather imagined
that you have these river basins and you have the plans, and that
actually you would achieve the plans for each river basin by 2015;
yet your programme says that there seems to be a second and third
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Can I describe
the nature of delivery of the programmes? We are kind of ringmaster
in all of this, in that it is our job to make sure that River
Basin Plans are produced and that we encourage, drive, cajole,
bribeany mechanism that is open to usall of the
folks who have to make a difference. There is a very wide range
of folks: water companies; local authorities in their development
role; developers themselves; all land managers, including farmers.
There is a whole variety of different folkHighways Agencyand
all of them have a role to play. We are working with those in
the River Basin Liaison Panels to make sure that they understand
what needs to be done in that river basin and that they are on
board with doing it. However, in some cases we will have powers
through our regulatory role to insist that they do it; in others,
it will be a question of incentivising, particularly with the
farming community; in others, with local authorities, it will
be a case of sitting alongside them as co-conspirators and trying
to get them excited about the objectives of the Water Framework
Directive. So in fact it will not be a plan, do, judge that it
is done; it is a much more collaborative process, and therefore
a lot will depend on whether the collaborators get on with the
job or not. Apart from that, on the issues that I talked about
beforeon the basis of cost, on the basis of technical feasibility,
whether we know enough and lead timeswe know for a fact
that some of the issues in relation to river basins will simply
not be dealt with in the first round. I think that we have to
be open and honest about that. There will be a second round of
plans and a third round of plans before we see real progress on
this, particularly with the groundwater issues.
Q15 Viscount Brookeborough: The river
basinswho decided what they would be? They are not necessarily
catchment areas, are they? They are colossal areas, as written
out here, so they are not one river basin anyway. What was it?
Was it geographical?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: They have an ecological
basisbut I am sure Aileen will be the techie person to
tell us what it is.
Ms Kirmond: It is a unitive division that is
common to Europe. So, for example, the Danube is a river basin.
What we have done is to divide the UK into a collection of small
and large rivers which drain to one place. It is actually a catchment-based
unit measure. Ours happen to be quite small, because we have lots
of smaller rivers that drain to estuaries and the sea. In Europe
we have the Danube and the Rhine, and so they have some very big
river basins that cross four or five country boundaries, never
mind administrative boundaries. It is a division that is laid
down in European guidance, and we have come up with the level
which Defra reported to Europe.
Q16 Lord Bach: I am a kind of poacher
turned gamekeeper or the other way round: I am not sure which.
Whichever, I have never had all that much to do with the Water
Framework Directive under my quite extensive portfolio. So could
I ask a fairly basic question? The directive clearly involves
a move towards both chemical and biological testing. How prepared
is your agency for this new approach? I think that you have touched
on it already in some of your answers, but what special preparations
have you made for this new role?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Perhaps I could
make one point on introduction and then pass it to Tricia, because
she has been managing the landing of the monitoring programme
as of last December. It is simply to say that probably we are
in the forefront in Europe in terms of the length of time that
we have been monitoring many parameters of the water environment.
So quite a lot of the monitoring that is already in place will
serve for the purposes of the Framework Directive but some of
it will not, particularly on the biological side. What we have
been trying to do is that, rather than take the traditional regulatory
approach of laying another set of monitoring requirements on top
of the existing set of monitoring requirements, we have been taking
a modern regulatory approach to it and saying, "What is it
we actually need to monitor in order to deliver the totality of
monitoring of the water environment, in the most cost-effective
way?"because it involves not only public money in
monitoring terms but it also involves monitoring efforts by people
like the water companies, who pass their costs on to water customers;
by local authorities, who pass their costs on to ratepayers. So
we have been anxious really to redesign our monitoring processes
from scratch, to do a good job by the Framework Directive while
building on the successes of the last 30-odd years. But Tricia
has had that job to do, so I shall pass to her.
Ms Henton: To answer your question, I think
that we are very well prepared; certainly as prepared as any other
European country. The fact that we have had this longstanding
and very detailed monitoring programmesome of it goes back
over 50 years and some of it even longer than thathas served
us very well in the UK, right across the UK. We have looked at
what we will actually need; what we have; where we are. We have
done an assessment of where we need to shift some of the resource.
The kind of area we have had to move into, for example, is where,
in England and Wales, we have not monitored as extensively on
lakes, estuaries and marine waters as we have on fresh waters.
That is an area where we have some new activity going on, therefore.
We have done a trawl round as many organisations as we can find
who also have water data; for example, CEFAS, the water companieswho
hold a lot of useful informationand we are linking with
them and trying not to duplicate anything in any way. We have
come up with this programme now; we have put it to the ministers;
we have actually implemented it. It is just awaiting its last
sign-off from Defra and WAG. It will be an evolutionary programme.
This year, at the end of the year, we will look and see if it
achieves what we need; how we need to tweak it or change it a
bit for next year. So it will have an annual review, to make sure
that we have got everything we need out of it.
Q17 Lord Palmer: Could I ask a quick
supplementary? In my part of the world, which is the Scottish
Borders, a vast number of us have our own private water supply.
Do you have a separate department which will deal with private
water supplies in England and Wales?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Depending on the
size of your private supply and how much you abstract, we will
already have a regulatory role over you anyway if you are on our
side of the border.
Ms Henton: I think on both sides now!
Baroness Young of Old Scone: But you are in
a complicated part of the world, because there is the river basin
that spans the border. Tricia, having come from both sides of
the border, will probably be able to answer that.
Ms Henton: We do not have a specific separate
unit within our organisation, other than the fact that we would
register your abstraction, if it is big enough. The Solway/Tweed
River Basin District is a very interesting one, because we are
dealing with two different administrations and two slightly different
ways of implementing the legislation. It therefore requires all
of us who are involved in it to go that extra mile to make sure
that we are getting what we want out of the River Basin District
and that we are keeping the legal aspects of each of the administrations
Baroness Young of Old Scone: It is quite difficult
to understand how all the existing mechanisms relate to the Water
Framework Directive. So many elements of the water environment
are already subject to either European or UK regulatory frameworks.
For example, all of water abstraction has law already applying
to it; quite a large proportion of discharges are already subject
to regimes that we operate. The good thing about the Framework
Directive is that, instead of having umpteen different plans and
umpteen different regimes, we can try to make some sense of the
whole lot by bringing the plans together, and then making sure
that the regulatory regimes that underpin them are working together,
rather than against each other. That is made more complicated
when you have to do that across the border, but we will just have
Q18 Chairman: I think that you have
mentioned a couple of times "slightly different ways of implementing",
when you have been talking about England and Scotland. Can you
give us a flavour of how slightly is "slightly" and
what are the difficulties, if any?
Ms Henton: I am going to ask my colleague to
answer that one in detail, because I have to say that my detailed
knowledge of what happens in Scotland is getting a bit rusty now.
I try to think England and Wales!
Ms Kirmond: It comes back to the fact that we
have a one-Member-State view of the directive, but obviously,
as my colleague has said, some of the administrations have a longer
history of regulation than others. For example, until quite recently
Northern Ireland and Scotland did not have as comprehensive an
abstraction licensing system as we do. There are therefore subtle
differences in the way that the Framework Directive has been brought
into implementation in the different administrations. One example
is that Scotland have brought in the Controlled Activities Regulations,
which they are using to control both discharges and abstractions.
On the face of the regulations they may look slightly different
but their intent is the same. That is one of the big issues, where
we work through the policy administrations that are joint administrations,
to make sure that the spirit and the law of the directive are
observed. Where possible, however, if there is some degree of
subsidiarity, it allows for individual regulatory regimes; but
it still achieves the same thing. For example, abstraction licensing
is one way, controlling discharges is another; but the intent
and the outcome are the same.
Q19 Chairman: I may be slightly getting
the words wrong here, but in a particular river basinlet
us do the Solway/Tweed, which must be an enormous area in relative
terms, and where you have the complication of Scotland and Englandis
the regime within that basin uniform? Or does it differ if you
are in Scotland or in England?
Ms Kirmond: If we look at the Solway/Tweed as
one river basin, which it is, it is up to the two halves of it
to ensure that they jointly meet good status, or aim to achieve
good status. They may use slightly different regulatory mechanisms
on either side of the border, but the plan is unified in terms
of its objectives for that river basin.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: If you have land
that spans the border, for example, I am afraid that you will
have to put up with the fact that you will be licensed in Scotland
one way and licensed in England in another way, even though those
two licences will be part of an overarching River Basin Management