Memorandum by The National Farmers' Union
(NFU) (DWB 28)
The National Farmers' Union (NFU) represents
the interests of some 70,000 businesses which are engaged in a
diverse range of agricultural, horticultural and related activities
throughout England and Wales. Farming businesses hold around 80
per cent of the abstraction licences in England and Wales and
therefore the draft Water Bill is an issue of importance to the
NFU. We welcome the chance to submit our comments on the draft
Bill to the Committee.
The draft Water Bill raises a number of important
matters of both principle and detail for the NFU.
The NFU supports the Government in
its commitment to ensure sustainable water resources. We are currently
running a Waterwise campaign to promote water efficiency amongst
In general we are concerned that
the draft Bill appears to be incomplete. The section labelled
"work in progress" constitutes around half of the Bills
content and we are concerned about the future consultation arrangements
for these additional issues.
We also believe that the timing of
the draft Bill is unfortunate given that we are currently awaiting
the Environment Agency's National and Regional Water Strategies
and a DETR statement on competition in the Water Industry and
the use of Economic Instruments in Abstraction Licensing. There
does not appear to be a Government position on how these issues
interrelate and as such, we are concerned that as a number of
these documents are published, the draft Bill may change significantly
Along with many other trade associations
and environmental groups we are disappointed that the draft Bill
does not directly address sustainability or have an overall water
strategy, rather it is a number of Clauses relating to water matters.
As we mentioned above, there are currently a large number of initiatives
of which the new Bill is but one, however a strategic vision of
water resources is lacking. We would like to see a national body
established with a strategic vision of the nations water resources.
We believe there are a number of hard choices that need to be
made and we would welcome the chance to discuss these with other
stakeholders in a government sponsored forum. Likewise, we would
like to see some mention of sustainability and a balance between
water users and the environment in the Bill.
We also note that although the Government
has been stating that there will be a presumption in favour of
renewal for licences, this wording does not feature in the Bill.
In fact the contrary position is apparent with the Bill stating
that the burden of proof must rest with the applicant to show
that environmental damage is not occurring.
Our other major concern is that whilst
we in general agree with the rationalisation of the licensing
regime we are concerned that trickle irrigators may be unfairly
treated due to the wording of the Bill.
The extension of the licensing regime to trickle
irrigation is an issue of great concern. Whilst it is understandable
that abstraction for trickle irrigation should be treated in the
same way as other forms of irrigation, we believe that the current
proposals will result in inequitable treatment for trickle irrigators
and ultimately to business closure and job losses.
The draft Bill proposes that growers who use
trickle irrigation should be obliged to apply for an abstraction
licence. Under the current Environment Agency regime, such licences
will not be granted in areas that are deemed to already be fully
licensed. This applies to a large number of areas of horticultural
production in Southern and Eastern England. In these areas, growers
who may have been trickle irrigating for a number of years and
who may have millions of pounds worth of associated investment,
will be without a water supply and may have to rely on mains water
resulting in dramatic cost increases. In addition, in some areas
where mains supply is limited due to resources or lack of pressure,
the businesses may be totally without water leading to closure.
This is potentially the case for the tomato industry on the Isle
of Wight whose closure would result in the loss of eight hundred
jobs. The situation is ironic due to the fact that trickle is
one of the most efficient forms of irrigation.
We believe that this situation needs special
consideration and we suggest that established trickle irrigators
should automatically be granted time-limited licences equal to
their average annual use. These can then be reviewed like other
licences when they come up for renewal. Such an approach will
give trickle irrigators equitable treatment.
Changes to Flood Defence Committees
The changes to flood defence committees are
described as non-contentious. This is far from the case. We are
extremely concerned about this issue and believe it is against
the spirit of the Water Framework Directive which calls for more
local decision making.
The draft Bill proposes that all licences should
be granted on a time-limited basis. This already occurs in many
areas and is a reasonable approach. However, the NFU's position
is that the time limit should be as long as possible and should
always be long enough to cover the time-scale of capital investment.
We believe that 30 years should be used as a standard time for
time-limited licences. We would repeat that whilst the Government
has stated that it intends for there to be a presumption of renewal
when licences are reviewed this is not stated in the wording of
Licences of Right
There is nothing in the draft Bill to encourage
holders of licences in perpetuity to move to time limited status.
However, from July 2012 the Bill will remove the right to compensation
for the removal of such licences if they are causing environmental
damage. We believe that where a licence is removed there should
be compensation and believe that as this may amount to the removal
of property without compensation, such action may have a questionable
Removal of Protection from Liability
We are concerned about the removal of protection
from liability of licence holders. We believe that this may have
serious implications when combined with a future EU Directive
on Environmental Liability and the Precautionary Principle.
Removal of Licences Causing Environmental Damage
In theory, the right to hold a licence unless
it is causing environmental damage is a reasonable position. However,
the areas of concern are :
How is "environmental damage"
defined and by whom?
The level of proof required to show
environmental damage, ie. will a precautionary approach be taken,
or must environmental damage be shown to be occurring.
The need for compensation irrespective
of when a licence of right is revoked.
Efficient Use of Water
An element of Taking Water Responsibly
that has not been included in the draft Bill was the duty of abstractors
to use water efficiently. This now will only apply to water companies
and is vague in terms of detail.
We would like to see this section of the Bill
strengthened. The NFU is already promoting water efficiency amongst
our members and we believe that there may be a case for a requirement
of efficiency to be placed on all abstractors. This would be helpful
in reducing stress on catchment water resources. There may also
be a case for the Government strengthening its position regarding
water companies ensuring efficient use by domestic users.
We would also like to see a greater responsibility
placed on abstractors to use water efficiently, a responsibility,
which we take very seriously and are currently actively promoting
amongst our membership.
De Minimus Levels
The removal of the need for a licence for users
of less than twenty cubic metres per day is a welcome piece of