PART 3 OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE (continued)|
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.
OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND
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
on the need for substantial reductions in leakage from the water
supply network, within economically feasible limits.
COST RECOVERY AND ECONOMIC INSTRUMENTS
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
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