Examination of Witness(Questions 180-199)|
WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002
180. It is good to have such animation. What
is the role of the Environment Agency in this process?
(Ms Cuff) It is pivotal because basically they have
been given responsibility for actually running the process. Obviously
they have got to be resourced to do that. It is not fair to expect
the Environment Agency with already stretched resources to spend
a huge amount of money on a participation process unless they
are going to get either extra resources through DEFRA or they
are going to somehow be able to reapply their existing resources
given that it is such a high priority. I gather they are doing
an internal reassessment called BRITE of how they spend their
money. This has to be given top priority. It is the biggest opportunity,
the most significant piece of water legislation for over 20 years.
Mr Mitchell: I must say I am looking forward
to the next couple of years when we are going to be consulting
the public and informing them on the euro, on the European constitution,
on the Water Framework Directive, MPs can just sit back with a
kind of bemused grin on their faces and watch it all going on.
Chairman: You have forgotten nuclear waste disposal.
181. I was just going to observe that we have
had many evidence sessions with DEFRA on important consultation,
nuclear waste was one of them, GM crops was another, and you have
raised some interesting issues. I want to just come to paragraph
14.5 in this new glossy which came out last week. It says here
"These regulations will, amongst other matters, introduce
new requirements for the proactive dissemination of information".
If you were designing a programme of proactive dissemination of
information what would you actually disseminate to the public
in order to stimulate the process that we are discussing? What
should they know about?
(Ms Cuff) I think there is a misunderstanding that
the Water Framework Directive is an onerous burden rather than
an opportunity, so the big message has to be that this is a big
exciting opportunity for individual members of the public and
the community to have a say about their local patch if they are
concerned about flooding, environmental quality, recreational
use, etc. The very first thing is to tell them that this opportunity
exists and then later, because we are a bit early with this, tell
them how they can then influence that. For example, the Environment
Agency do have experience of very effective leafleting and Floodline,
for example, has been extremely effectively disseminated. You
hear Barbara Young, for example, on Radio 4 talking about people
logging on and whatever. It is not impossible to start getting
the message out that this opportunity exists.
182. Let me ask you this because one of the
discussions with our advisers before you came in was over the
whole question of how you deal with some quite complex science
which underpins the way that the Water Framework Directive in
reality is going to operate. How do we deal with the question
of communicating to the public some of the complex science which
is central to the way that this thing works so that you can have
a genuinely informed consultation about what the public would
like to see and also to a degree manage their expectations as
well as advise them of what is involved?
(Ms Cuff) That is a dilemma and you do not have to
go straight into the science. The most important thing first of
all is to find out where they are coming from and what they want
to assess how the science then matches up. If you start that way
around then they might better understand later why decisions have
been made scientifically that have been made or why decisions
have been made on cost benefit analysis or economic reasons and
at least they will feel that they have had an influence. The concept
of good ecological status, which is the bottom line, more wildlife
in your rivers, someone like Chris Baines could easily explain
to people in simple language. You could get bogged down with eutrophication
and over-enrichment of rivers but there are some basic messages
about improving the quality, having more salmon in your rivers,
etc, key indicators. Government is very effective at disseminating
sustainable development indicators, for example people seeing
more skylarks on the farmlands, so the science can be made simple,
if you like, and you can see more salmon in your rivers.
183. Following on from that, you have said that
DEFRA is the best we have got and the Environment Agency are under-resourced
to be able to do this job properly. We have touched on the fact
that this is a very complicated, complex issue with a lot of necessary
information going to the public beforehand so that they can make
an informed response. It is so easy to ask people "what would
you like from the Water Framework Directive?" and you get
a knee-jerk reaction, "we all want clean water, lots of salmon
in it", but that may not be what we are talking about. It
is a bit like "do you want less sin and less crime?",
yes of course they want less sin and less crime, they want a cleaner
environment. Given all that, do you think that if we all get our
act together starting out of this room today we are going to have
sufficient time to actually do what Article 14 is asking us to
(Ms Cuff) Yes, if we start now. Yes, I do. Just to
go back to what you said about people wanting motherhood and apple
pie, saying they want the whole thing, we did test participation
in the Wise Use Project and we were conscious of this problem.
We had a blank sheet of paper. We just said "What do you
like about your river? What do you not like about your river?
How would you like your river managed in the future?" We
did start with very open questions and we refined those down and
ended up with some concrete management proposals for either flood
defence or restoration. We did also make it clearthe point
was made to my rightabout the expectations, that we would
not be able to deliver everything, some of it might not be possible
or feasible. I think sometimes you do have to have a blank sheet
start and then narrow it down and explain what is possible, what
is feasible, look for the consensus. I think if we start now we
have got a chance.
184. The constraints on it are greater than
you have said because you start with a blank sheet of paper on
what to say to the public. I know that the Environment Agency
in my area has done very good and very effective low level consultation
about flooding, it is an area that does flood because of the Severn
Valley, and it has been extremely effective in that way. It is
very easy to go through a village that has suffered from flooding
and say "What would you like to see? How much are you prepared
to pay for it? What kind of work do you want? How much will you
tolerate of, if you like, some flooding once every 50 years of
your field?" That is an easy single issue to go for, the
Water Framework Directive is not one little bit, it is a very,
very complicated large body in the Directive, it has very complicated
science behind it. Surely this is a very tremendous constraint
to real participation and consultation? We almost need to say
to the public "Please go out now and start enrolling with
the Open University to do ecology and water science" and
after three years we can then have an informed consultation on
this. The constraints, rather than just the normal suspects, are
on the general populace. It is not a case of "Would you like
to have lots of salmon going up and down your stream and, while
you are up there, would you like an otter?" They are all
going to want an otter and salmon but that is not what the Water
Framework Directive is about, it is about phosphorous levels that
will improve the ecosystem, it is about how much it is going to
cost, what are we going to do with that industry, what are we
going to do with man's activity on water. It is far more complicated.
Do you not think that the constraints are too great to have real
effective consultation and participation?
(Ms Cuff) I am much more optimistic that you can use
specific issues to go in to talk to people. I keep referring to
Wise Use because that is part of my experience but we might use
flooding as a vehicle to go in to talk to people because that
is what is concerning them at the moment. It is very important
to pitch participation in on a context that bothers people or
pitch it on agriculture or pollution, or whatever it is that is
bothering people in a particular locality, and then you can broaden
the discussion out. That is one way of tackling what you are saying.
It is big and complex but you can go in on a particular issue
and then broaden it out. It is a bit like the point made about
science, you do not have to bombard them with the whole thing,
you find out what is their particular preoccupation. Although
the Water Framework is big and sprawling, different parts within
a river basin will concentrate on different issues. Obviously
they have to have an integrated River Basin Management Plan but
the components of that plan will not be all and everything for
everywhere, there will be priorities in different parts, whether
it is agriculture or flooding or whatever it might be.
185. Does the fact that the UK will not have
a pilot River Basin Management Plan mean that we have already
missed out on one aspect of this consultation and public participation?
(Ms Cuff) Yes, it does. It is very disappointing that
we did not decide to offer a pilot in the UK. There is one in
Ireland on the Shannon, which hopefully we will be able to learn
from, and I have been working with them on the Shannon and hopefully
they will be trialing some participation techniques. It is not
too late for the Sounding Board to maybe think about commissioning
some sort of pilot but they have not offered a pilot to Europe
and that is disappointing.
186. We talked about some of the agencies that
have a pivotal role: DEFRA and the Environment Agency. In their
written evidence to us, WaterVoice talked about their possible
role in this exercise and they said "In England and Wales
we are well placed compared to other Member States in having,
for example, in WaterVoice's regional committees well established
customer representative bodies to play a full and active part
in responding to public consultation on the draft Plans."
Would you agree that they have an important role to play?
(Ms Cuff) WaterVoice does have an important role but
they are not the whole picture by any means. They only have a
committee of 20 members in every single river basin and that does
not encompass the whole public and more face-to-face, focus group
and one-to-one exercise which would be in the spirit of the Water
Framework Directive. Also they have a particular angle on things
from the consumer lobby and equally important will be other angles,
whether it is the fishermen or the farmers or whatever. They do
have an important role to play but they are not the whole picture
by any means.
187. Is it an angle that is likely to resolve
issues down to how much is it going to cost?
(Ms Cuff) Yes.
188. That might be the danger of too much emphasis
being placed on WaterVoice's role.
(Ms Cuff) This is not my particular area of expertise
but in the cost benefit analysis that is recommended for the Water
Framework Directive it is recommended that we try to take more
account of environmental and social costs and benefits.
189. So they have a role to play but within
certain limits and amongst many others?
(Ms Cuff) Yes.
190. You were involved in advising on, or maybe
even writing, parts of the Common Implementation Strategy. Are
there issues arising from that now that we can learn from in terms
of participation which you have not already pointed us towards?
(Ms Cuff) I have covered a lot of it but the main
thing to stress from the EU Guidance, which has got to be approved
by the Water Directors in Copenhagen at the end of this month
so we will see, it start now. There is no blueprinte for participation.
That document contains lots of really, really useful examples
for the UK to learn from across Central and Eastern Europe from
participation exercises that have happened. It also contains costings,
which I have not been asked about yet. It does have examples of
what participation might cost. It basically says that we have
aim for active involvement, which is an early process which allows
people to influence from an early stage rather than consultation
on pre-prepared document. There is a lot of really useful stuff
in there which I hope the UK will follow. Indeed representatives
of the Environment Agency have been involved in assisting to draft
191. You have not been asked about costings,
you invited the question.
(Ms Cuff) I am surprised that I have not been.
192. Can you give us some examples?
(Ms Cuff) The main point to make about the costings
is participation is an investment for the long-term. If you do
not lay the ground rules and if people do not understand and have
ownership of why a River Basin Management Plan is there and have
broad agreement to it then you are going to have troubles down
the line which could end up costing you money. That is the first
point. The European Guidance makes it very clear that it is an
investment. Depending on which participation exercise I chose
to sample I could give you figures for what it costs to run a
focus group, what it costs to train community facilitators, what
it costs to do a questionnaire. The main message is that the costs
are relatively small percentage wise to the costs of the big end
product, such as flood defence or restoration. We are talking
tens of thousands of pounds for some of these participation exercises,
not hundreds of thousands of pounds. There are always ways of
saving money to do with sampling views within a river basin and
not doing it everywhere. There are lots of ways that costs can
be cut and costs can be relatively small in the context of the
193. You mentioned a couple of times the stakeholder
(Ms Cuff) Yes.
194. I think it was welcomed by the World Wildlife
Fund UK as a good initiative by DEFRA but I understand from them
that it has only met three times. I wonder if you have any comment
as to why it has only met three times and whether that is any
indication of a lack of interest in consultation?
(Ms Cuff) It does seem to reflect the poor and disappointing
nature of the chapter on participation which is within the second
consultation document. I think the Sounding Board really has to
gather momentum now, not only in terms of how frequently it meets
but in terms of what things it puts in place. I have mentioned
that it would be good if it considered urgently testing some participation
methods and piloting some methods.
195. Article 14 of the Directive is a fairly
clear clarion call of intent, is it not?
(Ms Cuff) Yes.
196. If the Government or DEFRA were perfunctory
and shallow in its approach to consultation, is there a possibility
of a legal challenge?
(Ms Cuff) Yes. I am a lawyer by training so I look
forward to the case.
197. How much is this costing us?
(Ms Cuff) This is free. Basically, to be honest, if
you were to ask me why is participation important the absolutely
simplistic response is because Article 14 requires it and if the
UK does not do it there is a breach of the Directive. What is
fulfilling the commitments of Article 14 will be interpreted as
and when cases are brought. If we do not require it and if a case
is brought then this will all be up for analysis. I should say
that it encourages active involvement and it specifically requires
consultation and this is the sort of slippage and get-out clause
for some Member States. What Europe would like in its Guidance,
and what I would recommend to the Committee, is that we enter
the spirit of the Directive which says that active involvement
and participation are essential for the Directive's delivery and
we do go further than classic consultation.
198. Would you be able to define what needs
to be done to make sure that a legal challenge does not take place?
(Ms Cuff) For a legal challenge they only have to
do consultation in 2006. What I am asking for is going beyond
that, which would mean they would definitely, definitely be free
of the worry of a court case.
199. You have referred to this document, the
second consultation paper, and there is a phrase in it, and I
do not understand it or even know how to pronounce it properly,
the notion of the Aarhus Convention. Tell me what that is and
how that impinges on this?
(Ms Cuff) Basically it is all to do with public information
and access to information and we are signatories to that. Article
14 has taken its tune from the Aarhus Convention and it is all
to do with freedom of information, particularly environmental
information, and access and involvement.
Chairman: Ms Cuff, you have been very helpful
to us, thank you very much indeed. If there is anything that you
wish you had said let us know and if you said something you wish
you had not, it is a bit late. Thank you very much indeed.