Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
Baroness Young of Old Scone, Ms Tricia Henton and
Ms Aileen Kirmond
17 JANUARY 2007
Q20 Chairman: That will make you
really popular, will it not!
Baroness Young of Old Scone: We already have
that, as you know, My Lord Chairman, in terms of fisheries, if
I may say so!
Q21 Viscount Brookeborough: Who are
these people on the ground that are doing it? Who are these groups
of people, the actual people, who are having to interface with
Baroness Young of Old Scone: The structure that
we have adopted, in line with European guidance and Defra guidance,
is River Basin District Liaison Panels, who really bring together,
round that river basin, what we are calling "co-deliverers".
We did not want those panels which are advisory to the Agencyand
the agency advises the Secretary of Stateto be the kind
of "usual suspects" consultees. What we need, above
all, is to harness the ability to act over the people who can
make a difference round a river basin. So there will be people
like water companies, a selection of the local authoritiesI
am running short of people already.
Ms Kirmond: NGOs.
Q22 Viscount Brookeborough: But do
they have an address that you go to if you have a problem?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: No, because the
executive actionthis is where the Framework Directive,
as I was saying, is quite collaborative rather than directiveis
taken by whichever body sitting on the panel has that executive
action under their belt. If it is something that needs to happen
that water companies need to do, the water companies will do that
and they will be regulated in that by us as regulators and by
the economic regulator. If it is the local authorities who have
to do it, we are still searching for ways in which some of the
requirements of the Framework Directive can be more effectively
built into the planning mechanisms of local authorities, both
spatial planning and economic planning. If it is farmers who have
to do it, it will be a combination of mechanisms where the agriculture
departmentsDefra, and in Scotland and in Waleswill
have to look at how they can persuade farmers, with a bit of regulation,
a bit of incentive, a bit of advice, a bit of cross-compliance,
a bit of all the mechanisms that are there to help farmers do
the right thing by the water environment. So it is a very complicated
process; but if anybody has any bother with it, we are the ring-holder
and so the first port of call will be us. If it is an issue that
requires the River Basin District Liaison Panel to think about,
because it is a big enough issue of principle and policy, we will
ask them what they think about it and they are our sounding board.
However, we also want those panels to be a kind of cheerleader
for the Water Framework Directive process as well; we want them
to be selling it back into their own industries, back to their
Q23 Viscount Brookeborough: It sounds
to be a recipe for long-windedness and passing the buck by the
time you finally do that.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I must confess,
when I was first told that I was going to have the responsibility
for the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, it felt
as if the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse had just arrived!
It is good; it is a great directive; but it will not be easy to
get everybody enthused and delivering, because of course people
have competing priorities. It will be a complex directive to deliver,
but it gives us the benefit of taking things that we are already
trying to do with all these groups and giving some logic and longer-term
strategy to it, and some picture where people can move towards
the vision of good ecological status round that catchment. So
it is a simplifying mechanism, even though it does not sound like
Chairman: Let us move
on to public participation.
Q24 Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer:
Your answers to that last question touched a bit on some of the
public participation. However, would you see the Liaison Panelsand
you talked about them feeding back into their circleas
the prime way that you will get public participation? You have
talked a bit about spatial planning, and so on, but in local development
framework discussions, or parish plans and things of that level,
I do not think the words "Water Framework Directive"
have really crossed anyone's lips much yet. How will you ramp
that process up and get the public involved in it? Or do you see
that as very much the responsibility of local authorities? If
so, how are you talking to them, to move them up, I would suggest,
Baroness Young of Old Scone: 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. Sixty million people in this country will not regard the Water
Framework Directive as the thing that they want to talk about
over the breakfast table, and so we are not even going to try
to do that. In fact, the directive has been misquoted endlessly
on this. 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 need to be informed. From our market research,
the public want us to know that they think water quality and water
availability are important, and that biodiversity protection is
important. They want to know that there is a mechanism out there
that will do that, and that is pretty well all they want to know.
What we will give them is a bit more, because we will be reporting
on river basin status on a regular basis. So there will be a mechanism
for getting very simple messages about how much progress we are
making. We know from past experience that the public are quite
interested, for example, in our information on bathing beaches
and river water quality. There are therefore ways in which, at
a top line, we can engage with the public. In terms of local authorities,
I think that their major role is to be the doers: to take up the
challenges that lie with the things that they have to do in order
to deliver the Water Framework Directive, and to use their normal
mechanisms of public engagement to explain what they are doing
in thatas they explain what they are doing in any other
field. However, we do also have a very large number of other consultative
groups; we have our regional committees; we have all of the mechanisms
that we use and which all of the co-deliverers use to engage with
the public. For example, the water companies do a good job in
talking about some issues of the water environment to the public,
and we need to use their channels as well. So there will be a
large number of ways, but we have to do it on the back of things
that we are doing already. To spend a lot of public money trying
to get the intricacies of the Water Framework Directive over to
the man in the street, when he has already told us that he does
not want to know that, seems to me to be not what we are about.
I want action. I do not want discussion. I want doing; I want
outcome; I want river basins to get better. I would rather spend
more money on getting river basins better than making sure that
all 60 million people in Britain know their water catchment and
know exactly what we are doing in itto be frank.
Chairman: Rather a Stalinist
Q25 Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer:
Can I ask you one last thing on that? When local authoritieswho,
as you said, will be key on thisare looking at something
like this historic built environment, I think that at least all
elected members and all officers involved would understand what
the aim is and where they are going with that. Do you not have
quite a big gap to close with those decision-makers? The decisions
they make on development control issues, on highways, and so on,
will be key. Actually, you have to get your message through to
them pretty quickly.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: What we would like
and what we do not yet have is a requirement, through the government
guidance on river basin planning, which lays a more stringent
requirement on local authorities to deliver the objectives of
river basin plans. At the moment, the guidance from Defra lays
a requirement upon us to do so, but only requires local authorities
toand I cannot remember what the word is ... .
Ms Kirmond: "Due regard."
Baroness Young of Old Scone: ... to "have
due regard to" and "due regard" iswell,
due regard. We would have been happier had it been slightly tougher.
I do think that we will need to work quite hardand we are
working quite hardto get river basin planning requirements
into, first of all, all of the strategic level plans and strategies
for which local authorities are responsible: the spatial planning
strategies; regional economic strategies; housing strategies;
transport strategies. Through our regional networks, we are already
engaging with those processes. These messages will be going out
to local authorities. Then we need to work down through the system.
Whether we actually need to get to parish council I think is probably
beyond us. Local authorities will have to decide whether that
is vital. In some places it will be. Some of these incredibly
sensitive chalk streams that are very much affected by what happens
on a very local basisthat will be an important thing. However,
I suspect that is already the case, because there will be issues
locally that people are angst-ridden about already: water quality
in local streams; groups of fishermen anxious about what is happening
to fishing stocks; farmers and some of the things that they will
be talking about. So there are a lot of mechanisms that will bring
it much more up the public agenda. To be frank, however, if in
2015 we do a survey of the British public and there is even a
minor proportion of them who can utter the words "Water Framework
Directive", I shall put a bullet through my head! It will
have been the wrong thing to tell them. We want to tell them about
outcomes, not about the processes.
Q26 Lord Plumb: Your views on doing
rather than reacting are very welcome, particularly to an old
farmer who is involved in many of these issues. I am pleased that
you recognise that there is a problem. Water is here today and
it is gone tomorrow. We might have a drought midsummer; today
we are flooded; and all these things have to be dealt with. Your
remark about liaising with other bodies is very important. You
are there at the centre and therefore you can the better advise
those with whom you are working if that is the direction people
should go, and therefore that is welcome. You have spoken of many
of those different organisations. There is the UK Technical Advisory
Group which is, or should be, a doing body. To what extent are
you working with them? Would you like to elaborate on some of
the things that you have already said?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: The UK Technical
Advisory Group is a bunch of folk who definitely have the anoraks,
so I shall turn to Aileen.
Ms Kirmond: I will put my anorak on, because
I chair the Technical Advisory Group. I think perhaps there may
be a bit of a misconception about what the Technical Advisory
Group is there for. It is very much what it says: it is a technical
advisory group to the UK administrations and it is a technical
support group to the UK administrations. It is made up of a collaboration
of UK environment agencies and the conservation agencies. It has
people like ourselves; it has EHS from Northern Ireland and Scottish
National Heritage on it. So it is a mixture of the UK's technical
experts in their field. The point of it is to ensure that we have
a consistent UK technical approach for implementation of the Framework
Directive. The places where it has had a role to play, therefore,
is whether we have expertise to put into what communities would
expect to seein certain chalk streams, for example. We
may have an expert in, most likely, the agency; but, if it is
a habitat that is likely to be unique to Scotland, we would use
the Scottish expert there. It is very much a collection of experts
who advise the UK administrations, so that they can make their
decisions in terms of their European decisions and their UK decisions.
It is a consistency group. It helps with promoting consistency
of standards; consistency of technical input to the common implementation
work in Europe, and things like that. They are there to represent
their expertise; they are not there to represent their individual
organisations. They advise the administrations on the best way
for the UK to proceed, as a Member State and as a member of the
Q27 Lord Plumb: So would they come
to you? Or would you be chasing them?
Ms Kirmond: In terms of me being Chair?
Q28 Lord Plumb: Yes.
Ms Kirmond: Part of my job is to manage their
work programme, and the work programme is agreed with the administrations.
So it is there to serve what the administrations need in terms
of the implementation of the directive. It is an agreed programme,
both within the agenciesboth conservation and the environment
agenciesbut it is agreed ultimately by the administrations
and we are there to serve them.
Q29 Lord Plumb: You say that you
are involvedand I say "you" because you did say
that you were Chairin Europe. So you will be arguing the
wider issues than just water directives, in terms of development
and technology in the water industry?
Ms Kirmond: It is very much confined to the
needs of the Framework Directive. So where there is a need for
a common view to be taken on a chemical standard, for example,
that is the sort of forum that we would send our experts to. It
is specific to the implementation of the Water Framework Directive;
it does not have a wider remit than that. Its role will finish
when the Framework Directive is successfully completed. It is
a task and finish to do with that particular directive.
Q30 Chairman: This is several decades
Ms Kirmond: I hope UKTAG does not go on for
several decades, because it is very much a first-cycle activity.
It is about trying to put in place processes and combined knowledge
that we did not have when we started out on this road. Once we
have done the process for the first time, we should not need it
any more, because we have uncovered things, put them in place,
and we should not need to do it again.
Q31 Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer:
With a group, for example, like the NFU, who I do not think are
on UKTAG but might have a national view bigger than just a river
basin, where do they feed into the process at an early stage?
Ms Kirmond: As I say, the UKTAG is a technical
advisory group to the Governments on their implementation of the
directive. It does not advise on policy matters; it advises on
technical matters only.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: But there will
be national panels. Defra will have a national stakeholder group
in order to hear what the stakeholder views on a national level
are. We are also going to have a national group to bring together
some of the experience coming out of our River Basin District
Q32 Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer:
When you say you are going to, when is that?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: We have not set
it up yet. I think that the River Basin Panels have met three
times, and so they are still kind of finding their feet. We are
still building the systems, basically.
Ms Henton: The NFU has a seat on probably all
of the Liaison Panels. Certainly they will have been invited,
because they are an absolutely key stakeholder. In terms of the
structure, the people who sit on the liaison panels, there is
a certain core group of people, like the NFU and like the NGO
representationwho have agreed to divvy it up between themthe
regional development agencies, et cetera. Then, for specific areasfor
example, in the mining areas in the River Basin District in the
North East and in one of the ones in Walesthe Coal Authority
sits on that, because mining and mine water is a very specific
issue for that area and we need them to deliver things for us.
Q33 Viscount Ullswater: That leads
quite well to the next question, because it is one about scope.
Are there any bodies of water in England and Wales not included
in the Agency's strategy for implementation of the directive?
If so, which are they? And what is the Agency's rationale for
excluding them? Have you perhaps been able to identify any where
you may be looking for less stringent environmental objectives
because of human activity, disproportionate cost, or unfeasibility?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: This is an incredibly
technical and difficult area, so I will try to make it as simple
as possible to the best of my understanding, but Aileen may leap
in and say something completely different when I have finished.
The directive, in Annex II, defines what water bodies we should
include, but the reality is that, as far as rivers are concerned,
it is almost impossible, except for a very small number of rivers,
to manage a catchment without having an impact on all of the rivers
within it. So, even though they do not appear on our mapsbecause
the maps do not go down to sufficient scalewe are basically
assuming that all rivers, to all intents and purposes, are part
of the work on the directive. As far as water bodies are concerned,
we have 6,535 surface water bodies and 356 groundwater bodies.
For the non-river bitsthe lakes, the ponds, the poolswe
are guided by the directive to go down to lakes greater than 50
hectares. That is quite big, and so there is now a discussion
about what we do about lakes that go from 50 hectares down to
five hectares. The discussion there is really what is the best
way of approaching these, particularly where they have important,
either international or national, biodiversity designations. I
do not think that there is any doubt that we will be including
all of the bodies that have international nature conservation
designations, either Special Areas for Conservation or Special
Protection Areas; because we already have mechanisms to protect
those bodies and it would seem crazy not to have them as part
of this uniting framework that the Framework Directive is. The
question is really those bodies that are Sites of Special Scientific
Interest as opposed to internationally protected, where we have
a national designation. There is work going on in which we have
been involved, and which Defra is now considering, about the cost-effectiveness
and the importance for the overall objectives of the Framework
Directive of those smaller bodies, and whether there needs to
be some form of objective set for them and process put in place
for them that may in fact not be at the same level as the bigger
water bodies that are included within the directive. That is work
that is currently underway. There was a report by consultants
looking at that. The moot point, however, appeared to be with
regard to water bodies which are important for the Biodiversity
Action Plan but are not currently a designated site under nature
conservation regulations in this country; so they are not an SSSI
(a Site of Special Scientific Interest) but they are important
for the delivery of the Biodiversity Action Plan habitat improvement
processI told you that it was going to be complicated!and
that is as yet unresolved. Aileen may want to comment on that.
It seems to me that we have not to lose sight of the fact that
there are other processes in place that will bear on these important
nature conservation bodies. There is a shed-load of regulation
that surrounds Special Protection Areas and SACsvery justifiably,
because they are the jewels in the crownand there is now
much enhanced protection under the CRoW Act for the SSSIs. The
Biodiversity Action Plan has not been an instrument that has been
progressed as fast as I would like, because it is dependent on
a very large number of people, often operating in a voluntary
capacity rather than a statutory capacity. It remains to be seen
what Defra will or will not decide on the inclusion of BAP habitat-important
bodies in the framework directive, and in what way. How is that?
Ms Kirmond: It is all that needs to be said!
Q34 Viscount Ullswater: Perhaps I
can then go on to my second question, which again I think that
you have touched on. It is not immediately clear from the directive
how wetlandsand I am not sure whether that is a body of
water or not (ponds and marshes) are to be included. Do they fit
into the strategy on implementation? Perhaps I could elaborate
slightly. In terms of what the directive saysto deliver
some form of ecological statuswhen you have some form of
acid bog, will you leave it as an acid bog? Or will you try to
change its chemical status? Eventually the water percolates through,
some thousands of years laterfor instance, I heard on BBC
radio that it takes 10,000 years for water to percolate through
the Mendips and come up in rather smelly form in the baths in
Baththese are long timescales, are they not?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Yes. That is one
of the problems of the Framework Directive. It will take an awfully
long time to work out whether this damned thing is working or
not! Some of the progress will be very immediate, particularly
where we have areas that are drier than they should be and need
to be wetted and, locally, where there are issues like that and
it is, sort of, "Instant wildlife: just add water".
With some of these groundwater issues, however, they are very,
very long-term processes. I would hate, in a few thousand years,
for the burghers of Bath not to be able to drink the ghastly stuff
that comes out there! Wetlands are not water bodies under the
Framework Directive, so they do not have their own objectives;
but there is European guidance on wetlands. There are three things
that we take into account. One isare these wetlands important
because they interact with groundwaters that are part of the directive?
We obviously need to assess that. That means we have to collaborate
with the experts in the conservation bodies like Natural England
and the Countryside Council for Wales. Are there wetlands that
are important for the Water Framework Directive objectives of
surface water bodies? For example, there can be pressures on wetlands
that produce an impact upstream or downstream for water bodies
that we will be looking at as part of the Framework Directive.
We are therefore looking at what those relationships are. Some
wetlands are just protected under their own rights under pre-existing
regulation and, if they have a protected designation, we need
to take them into account in river basin planning. So the answer
to your acid bog is: if it is a big acid bog that currently has
a protected designation, we will be watching its acidity like
a hawk. If it is a tiny, tiny acid bog, we will probably be watching
its acidity like a hawk, because we have far too few acid bogs
anyway; so under the Biodiversity Action Plan we would want to
see some progressbut that is as yet an unresolved issue
with Defra. If it was screwing upI am sorry, a technical
term!our ability to achieve the objectives for either groundwater
or surface water under the directive, we would be watching it
like a hawk. If it was a very, very small acid bogwell,
I think probably we would want to take account of acid bogs, no
matter what size they were really.
Q35 Chairman: So that I can understand
this, what will the Water Framework Directive bring additionally
to the Flow Country?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: One of the issues
in Scotlandand Tricia will help me on thatmust be
that it is a different texture of risk. The first thing we had
to do around river catchments was to assess what the risks to
the water bodies were in those catchments, and we did the characterisation
maps. If you are feeling seriously sad one sunny day, do go on
to the website or ask us, and we will send you the characterisation
maps for any water body that you have an interest in. They are
fascinating. They show us the picture for nitrate, pesticides,
water quantity issues, biodiversity issues. They are great maps,
showing what the pattern of threat around each river basin is.
The pattern of threat in Scotland is a heck of a lot less than
the pattern of threat in England, because there are fewer people,
there is less development, less intensive industry. However, there
are areas where there are threats to the Flow Country, some of
which in the past were things like inappropriate forestry, inappropriate
upland drainageI cannot think of any other threats to the
Flow Countrythough nobody has suggested building houses
on the area yet. The pattern of threat is much less and so the
Framework Directive probably brings less to those wild areas of
Scotland, but will bring a lot to the Central Belt and to some
of the areas where farming or land management is having an inappropriate
Ms Henton: I think that is fair, yes.
Q36 Lord Plumb: May I ask a supplementary
on the implementation of the directive? Since farmers are encouraged
to become more environmentally friendly, on Pillar 2thanks
to Willy Bach, of course, and all the development that has taken
placefarmers are responding to this in a way that I would
not have believed, frankly. I have never seen so many ponds cleaned
out, waterways cleared, and so on, in various parts of the countrybecause
there is a carrot there to help them. I am just wondering, in
the implementation of the directive, how this fits into your programme.
You obviously have a very close liaison with Defra and the work
that is going on there, and the implementation of Pillar 2 in
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Pillar 2 and the
incentive payments on Pillar 2 will be a really important issue.
Our worry, and I am sure Lord Bach shares it, is the fact that
under the current negotiations there will be rather less available
in Pillar 2 for agri-environment schemes than we had hoped, and
certainly not enough to fully fund both the new Entry Level Scheme
and the higher tier scheme, all of which will be aimed at encouraging
farmers and incentivising them to do the right thing by a whole
range of environmental issues, of which the Framework Directive
will be one. We are seeing the way in which we can work with farmers
as a kind of basket of instruments on which we can work with them.
Advice is clearly quite a powerful one and it is interesting to
watch. We did a pilot in the Ribble catchment, and the good thing
about it is that it brought people together to talk about what
needed to happen. To be honest, they are running away from us
at the moment. They are doing it themselves. We are not having
to do anything. They are getting together and sorting themselves
out. We do need more money in Pillar 2. We very much hope that
the Secretary of State's hand will be firm in the negotiations
in Europe, and that Mrs Fischer Boel will not also diminish the
power of some other things that are around which we think are
useful. I know that cross-compliance, whereby anyone who is in
receipt of farming payments has to achieve minimum environmental
standards, is not popular with farmers but it is popular with
us, because it does mean that we then have a relationship with
every single farmer who has public money payments. That relationship
allows us to talk to them about what are the particular issues
round their patch. We want to keep it simple for farmers because,
for many of them, all of the different bits of legislation and
regulation are quite confusing. To be frank, the River Basin Framework
Catchment Plans give the opportunity to identify what are the
important things in each round of planning. If the important thing
round a particular catchment or a part of a catchment is nitrate,
therefore, let us talk to farmers about nitrate. If it is sedimentation,
let us talk to them about sedimentation. If it is about the way
in which they are managing their maize, let us talk to them about
maize management. That is m-a-i-z-e, not m-a-z-e! Farm diversification
has not yet got as far as creating m-a-z-e-s all over the place!
Q37 Viscount Ullswater: I do know
that there are maize mazes.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Perhaps that is
something we could talk to the NFU about!
Q38 Lord Bach: There is one in Leicestershire
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Working with farmers
will be very rewarding but it will also be very difficult, and
we shall have to have a very close relationship with Natural England
because we do not all want to be walking up the farm drive at
the same timebut we do all want to be saying the same thing
Q39 Lord Plumb: Mrs Fischer Boel
is speaking in a week or two's time at the NFU Annual Meeting
and I will see that there is a proper question tabled.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: At the Oxford Farming
Conference, the biggest round of applause that Mrs Fischer Boel
got and the biggest booing and hissing I got was when we started
talking about cross-compliance. I felt like one of those pantomime
acts, where every time I went on stage everybody started hissing!
Chairman: Many of us have experienced