Select Committee on European Communities Eighth Report



  52.    Although virtually all our witnesses felt that the deadline of 2010 for achievement of "good status" was unrealistic and ran the risk of creating pressure for derogations and lower standards in some Member States, we consider there is merit in setting a deadline that is not too far in the future. We suspect that 2010 is not an unreasonable deadline for most Member States and will help to instill discipline and a sense of urgency in the others. A longer timescale could encourage the feeling that winning a further relaxation as the deadline approached would be relatively easy. Many of the implementation targets in existing Directives being brought within the framework will have been met by 2010 anyway. It is, however, important that Member States, in using their best endeavours, give priority to protecting existing high quality waters, rather than adopting a blanket approach, and should not lose sight of this priority by devoting disproportionate resources to tackling intractable cases.


  53.    We share witnesses' concern about the present lack of "state of the environment" data on which to base decisions on standards and to attempt some estimate of the possible costs of implementation. They are also essential for establishing baselines for subsequent monitoring. Effective monitoring is vital and the European Environment Agency has a key role to play in recommending standards and methodologies. It must be recognised that standards and procedures may have to vary according to the circumstances of different Member States, but they must be capable of yielding data from which reliable comparisons between Member States can be made. We were pleased to learn from DETR that the Commission's intention is to involve the Agency very closely in the task of working up and implementing the Directive, and look forward to seeing positive results from this-particularly as the Agency's topic centre for inland waters is led from the United Kingdom, by WRc (Water Research Centre).


  54.    We feel there is a temptation to criticise too glibly the present lack of detailed estimates of implementation costs. There is no reason to suppose that the rate of technological advance will be any slower over the next dozen years than it has been since the mid-eighties. Detailed cost estimates cannot sensibly be made so far ahead. It is true that implementation of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive has been a salutary experience for the water industry across Europe, but it would be a pity nevertheless if agreement on the Directive were unduly delayed because of largely speculative arguments about costs. Nevertheless we agree with the DETR that the negotiations need to be informed by better estimates of the potential costs and benefits of the proposals and note that the Government will be undertaking further work on these.


  55.    We agree with witnesses who argued that the draft should give more weight to demand management, particularly in the context of contingency planning for climate change, but we think the emphasis should be on positively promoting efficient use rather than on merely imposing restrictions. It is important to get the public on board in sharing a common objective.

  56.    We consider that demand management should be a basic (mandatory) measure in a river basin plan, as opposed to a supplementary (discretionary) measure. The supply side is important too: we welcome the strong stance of the present and previous Governments and the Director General of Water Services[20] on the need for substantial reductions in leakage from the water supply network, within economically feasible limits.


  57.    The principle of full cost recovery charging is in our view desirable as a long-term goal, but it will depend on how environmental costs are defined. The draft Directive rightly acknowledges the need to take affordability into account in the case of domestic consumers. We agree with the DETR that charges for water use have a significance well outside strict environmental and economic considerations: they are closely bound up with public health policy and with government policies targeted at the more vulnerable members of society. We would be concerned if the requirements of Article 12 of the Directive had the effect of curtailing Member States' freedom to find effective solutions to the question of affordability, e.g. through cross-subsidies, within an overall framework of full cost recovery and protection of water resources. We therefore agree with the DETR that particular attention should be focused in the negotiations on Article 12's consistency with the principle of subsidiarity.

  58.    The suggestion by OFWAT that water companies should be under a statutory obligation to promote economy in water use through their pricing policies merits serious consideration. Although we have not formed a clear view on the usefulness or feasibility of tradeable permits for regulating abstractions and discharges by industrial customers, we can see that they could be potentially valuable, provided it were possible to apply them in a way which brought about year­on­year reductions in polluting and resource-depleting activity. We are pleased, therefore, that they will feature in the Government's review of abstraction licensing.


  59.    The Committee considers that this proposal raises important questions to which the special attention of the House should be drawn, and makes this Report for information.

20   OFWAT news release 35/97, 28 October 1997: setting of mandatory leakage targets for the water companies for 1988-99 and publication of report Leakage and Water Efficiency (OFWAT, 1997). Back

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