Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by English Nature (DWB 20)


  1.  English Nature is the statutory body that champions the conservation and enhancement of the wildlife and natural features of England. We do this by:

    advising—Government, other agencies, local authorities, interest groups, business, communities, individuals;

    regulating—activities affecting the special nature conservation sites in England;

    enabling—helping others to manage land for nature conservation, through grants, projects and information;

    enthusing—advocating nature conservation for all and biodiversity as a key test of sustainable development.

  2.  In fulfilling our statutory duties, we:

    —  establish and manage National Nature Reserves;

    —  notify and safeguard Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs);

    —  advocate to government departments and other effective policies for nature conservation;

    —  disseminate guidance and advice about nature conservation;

    —  promote research relevant to nature conservation.

  3.  Through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international nature conservation issues.

  4.  English Nature welcomes the opportunity to comment on the draft Water Bill. We will be responding fully to the DETR consultation on the draft legislation at the end of January. In this memorandum, we list our initial conclusions.


  5.  English Nature welcomes changes to the legislation on abstraction licensing in order to facilitate sustainable management of abstraction licensing. We supported the proposals set out in Taking Water Responsibly (DETR/Welsh Office, 1999).

  6.  We support the introduction of time-limited licences (Clauses 10 and 11) for new abstractions. However, most of England's available water resource is already licensed. We cannot find any measures in the proposed legislation to ensure that current open-ended licences will be converted to a time-limited basis by 2013, as envisaged in the Government's consultation paper The Review of the Water Abstraction Licensing System in England and Wales (June 1998).

  7.  Clause 17 of the draft Bill removes the need for compensation to be paid after 2012 for revocation or amendment of abstraction licences on grounds of serious damage to the environment. However, during the consultation process, it was suggested that all existing licences (often "licences of right" from 1963) would be recalled on a "no-compensation" basis after 2012 and placed on a time-limited basis. The lack of this provision could seriously limit the Environment Agency's ability to manage resource allocations and lead to a large number of appeals, if licences were to be recalled.

  8.  We support the concept of bulk supply agreements (Clause 21). They would assist sustainable water resources management, especially where a town or industrial area can be more easily supplied from an adjoining water company area. We consider that the Environment Agency should have powers to require such transfer agreements, where an analysis as part of the Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies (CAMS) process has shown it to be the most sustainable and cost-effective option.

  9.  English Nature welcomes the enforceable duty on water companies to further water conservation (Clause 53). We would like to see this duty extended to cover major industrial and agricultural abstractors.

  10.  The DETR consultation document mentions CAMS as a strategic approach to water resource allocation. We assume that these will be non-statutory strategies. In the near future, we expect that CAMS will inform River Basin Management Plans, required under the European Water Framework Directive. We recommend that consideration be given to introducing provisions in the Bill that would reflect the water resource aspects of the Water Framework Directive.

  11.  English Nature provided a response in July 2000 to the DETR consultation on economic instruments in relation to water abstraction. We believe that economic instruments could play a useful role in supporting the new licensing system. We would like to see legislation that enables implementation of a charging system for abstraction licences which would deliver sufficient resources for compensation payments, where licensing changes are required. Legislation should also enable implementation of abstraction charges which reflect the full costs of environmental damage.


  12.  English Nature considers that this part of the draft Bill is somewhat narrowly framed and concentrates on consumers and competition at the possible expense of environmental aspects of water use.

  13.  We recommend that, alongside the new duty on the Secretary of State and the Director General of Water Services to further consumer objectives (Clause 27), there should be a specific objective inserted to protect the environment and help achieve sustainable water management. This is vital to reinforce the aim of achieving sustainability through the new Bill.

  14.  Clause 27 suggests that the new consumer objective can be achieved by promoting effective competition. English Nature has been closely involved in the AMP process which is delivering price cuts for consumers as well as a series of environmental improvements. The scope for further economies, other than economies of scale, is not clear. Water is a relatively cheap consumer resource, and the full environmental price of water supply and sewage disposal is probably not being paid at the moment. It is essential that safeguards for the environment and sustainable use of water resources are in place, if measures for increasing competition are introduced.

  15.  The DETR consultation document states that, since developments in the water industry have resulted in changes to the structure of existing water companies, measures will be included in the Bill to protect drinking water quality. English Nature would also like to see similar safeguards for the environment in this context.

  16.  With the establishment of a Water Advisory Panel (Clause 22), the Director General should ensure that he is properly advised on his environmental duties, either through membership of the Panel or by other arrangements.

  17.  The Consumer Council for Water (Clause 23), should be aware that customers are not only interested in lower prices. Customer surveys, such as that described in A Price Worth Paying (Environment Agency, 1998), show that people do not want to see reductions in bills at the expense of much-need improvements to the environment. In order to reflect this, English Nature recommends that a duty to further conservation, equivalent to the duty on water companies and the Director General, should be placed on the Council.

  18.  In representing all consumer interests, membership of the Consumer Council for Water should include environmental interests.

  19.  English Nature welcomes the provision (Clause 28) for guidance on environmental and social matters. We suggest that English Nature is one of the bodies that is consulted before such guidance is issued.

January 2001

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