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Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 6:



"IMPOUNDING TO CREATE LARGE RESERVOIRS
(1) The Agency, prior to granting a licence to a water company to impound water in a large reservoir, shall conduct—
(a) an environmental impact assessment;
(b) a social impact assessment; and
(c) the subjection of plans to the local planning authority to obtain planning permission.
(2) The Secretary of State in England and the First Minister in Wales shall have the power to refer such planning applications to a public inquiry."

The noble Lord said: We are addressing three amendments. Amendment No. 6 deals with the impounding of large reservoirs; that is specific to reservoirs that have a capacity of more than 25,000 cubic metres. Amendment No. 7 relates to smaller reservoirs—my noble friend Lady Miller will speak to it. Amendment No. 8 addresses compensatory flow into river systems from reservoirs.

Amendment No. 6 relates to impounding to create large reservoirs. The new clause states that the agency, prior to granting a licence to a water company to impound water in a large reservoir, shall conduct three things in principle—an environmental impact assessment, a social impact assessment and the subjection of plans to the local planning authority to obtain planning permission. The second part of the

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new clause would ensure that the Secretary of State in England and the First Minister in Wales shall have the power to refer such planning applications to a public inquiry.

This is a very important new clause. Indeed, as someone who comes from Wales, I believe it is crucial. We believe that the Bill should guide the conduct of the water company in increasing the water capacity, if that is its wish. When one dams a valley or other area, which is often in an environmentally sensitive area anyway, the impact can have an enormous downside and completely change the environment of the area where the reservoir is created. Local communities are often completely disrupted where a valley has been dammed. In the past, entire communities have been lost under the waters—drowned, literally—and the inhabitants have had to be relocated elsewhere.

It is obvious that any plans would have to come within the ambit of the local planning authority to obtain planning permission. As a fallback position, there must be an appeals mechanism so that an appeal can be made on all those aspects—perhaps to oppose any such development. The purpose and function of the proposal is to try to prevent communities from flooding, with the loss of livelihood, housing and community facilities and amenities, in addition to the environmental factors that I mentioned.

There is another aspect to that in that reservoirs can also be extended. A proposal is being considered that might extend one of the reservoirs in mid-Wales to twice its size. That is in the Elan valley.

I see the amendment as a protection of communities and a way to give them the means to appeal against someone coming along and basically saying, "We are going to drown your valley".

I point out the number of reservoirs in Wales and the large city conurbations which they supply. I will write out their names for the benefit of the Hansard writers. One at Llandegfedd, near Pontypool, is a totally different type of reservoir to the ones in mountainous areas, and is basic to the water supply to south-east Wales.

The Talybont reservoir in the Brecon Beacons supplies Newport, along with the Usk reservoir; the Crai reservoir supplies Swansea; the Taf Fechan system in the Beacons supplies Cardiff—there are three of those reservoirs; the Ystradfellte reservoir supplies Swansea; and the Llyn Brianne supplies Swansea and also transfers water. The Elan valley complex, which was very wisely invested in by the citizens of Birmingham in Victorian times, supplies almost, but not entirely, all of Birmingham's water supply. The Vyrnwy supplies Liverpool. The Celyn, which also supplies Liverpool, involved the flooding of Tryweryn. That did more for creating Welsh nationalism than any other act of any body in the United Kingdom in the past 50 years. The Brenig reservoir supplies north Wales, the Clywedog regulates the River Severn and the Llys-y-fran reservoir supplies Haverfordwest and Milford Haven.

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That is just a few of the reservoirs in Wales—there are many more. People in Wales will say that they do not want any more of their valleys flooded, thank you very much, and they do not want to lose a single additional community. In 1970, two valleys were saved from damming—the Senni, in the area I come from, near Brecon, and the Dulais, in Montgomeryshire. Indeed, my noble friends Lord Hooson and Lord Thomas of Gresford became local heroes because, with the flood defence committee, they prevented both valleys being flooded. They contained substantial communities, not just farmhouses. During drought conditions, it is sad to see heaps of rubble in low water that used to contain communities, very often Welsh speaking.

The amendment would ensure that that historical situation does not repeat itself. We were talking earlier about the conservation of water. An efficient use of water should, if conducted properly, prevent such things from happening in the future. However, I fear that doubling the size of one of the Elan valley reservoirs will be quite an issue. It will impact entirely on another river system as well, so it is very important for the environmental aspects to be fully considered.

Amendment No. 8 is all about compensatory flow from reservoirs into river systems. It states:


    "The Agency shall set volumes of compensatory water flows to be released from reservoirs and impoundments into rivers in sufficient quantity to sustain the water quality and ecology of river systems".

This Bill is all about sustainability. I assure noble Lords that there are many instances, particularly during long summers, when acute observation shows rivers becoming ecologically unviable. One can see what happens to oxygen levels; there are dead fish in the river, and insect life is reduced. During the summer there is very often a conflict of priorities. The great demand for water conflicts with the need for sustainability. Decisions are taken, orders are made and often, because consumers or industries are running seriously short of water, the poor old river's compensatory flow becomes reduced. This can be very damaging; in bad drought years, the impact on the ecology of river systems can last for at least the next five years.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that throughout the year volumes of compensatory water flow from reservoirs continue to be released into rivers to ensure that they remain ecologically sustainable. It is my privilege to speak to Amendments Nos. 6 and 8, and my noble friend Lady Miller will address Amendment No. 7. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Amendment No. 7 is different from those spoken to by my noble friend Lord Livsey of Talgarth, which I wholeheartedly support. But I believe that what they have in common is the proportionate nature of regulation. As my noble friend has outlined, there clearly needs to be a strengthening of regulation. However, Amendment No. 7 would lighten the regulation with regard to small impoundments that

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farmers, in particular, make on their lands when precipitation is at its greatest—in January, February and March.

The purpose of Amendment No. 7 is to encourage farmers and landowners to store winter water and to obviate the requirement for multiple consents for a very simple operation. Let me explain how complicated the Bill will make such a simple exercise as creating a small pond on a farm either for wildlife, for use later in the year to irrigate crops or for any other reasonable use.

The 25,000 cubic metres that I have suggested seems large when written down but it is not a large amount of water. Under the Bill as it stands, farmers who wanted to store that amount of water, would need the following consents: they would need consent under the Land Drainage Act 1991; an obstruction licence time-limited consent; an impoundment licence; and certification under the Reservoirs Act 1975. I will be encouraged if the Minister tells me that farmers will not need quite that many consents. However, for the creation of a small pond on a farm, that is over-regulation.

Furthermore, some of the other laudable efforts that the Government are making in terms of their agri-environment schemes are encouraging the creation of small ponds and habitats that can be created by ponds.

Habitat creation would be one benefit. A second would be that at times of floods, not quite so much water would be going downstream. Therefore, flooding problems further down the system could be alleviated if several landowners and farmers followed this pattern of working.

Thirdly, if water were flowing that fast, it would be likely to trap some of the silt and diffuse pollution so it would keep water quality downstream better. I have already mentioned the important subject of habitat.

So there would be a lot of benefits to the environment and the public. This is one area that the Water Framework Directive catchment management system could encourage, but the small amounts of water specified in the Bill discourages this approach. It will mean more paperwork, more licence fees and will discourage the farmer. The Government have spoken about better regulation; I remind them that of the five principles of good regulation, which I have here, the first is to be proportionate; regulators should intervene only where necessary. My amendment would take out a completely unnecessary regulation.


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