Defra plans for switching abstraction licences to permits

A contract being signed

The abstraction and impoundment of water is currently authorised through the granting of licences by the Environment Agency.

Government intends moving the regulation of abstraction (and impoundment) of water from the Water Resources Act 1991 into the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2016 (EPR).

Proposals to eventually transfer licences into permits was announced in Defra’s Abstraction Plan in 2017. The abstraction plan’s overall aim is to address unsustainable abstraction, to have stronger catchment focus, and to modernise the abstraction service.

Defra and the Environment Agency have created an advisory group of external stakeholders to consider the very many technical barriers to a smooth switch from licences to permits. The NFU represents the agricultural sector on the advisory group.

The NFU continues to hold fundamental concerns about the potential transfer of abstraction licences into the permitting regulations.

Existing abstraction rules and the standard conditions contained within licences do not lend themselves well to permitting regulations which are founded on the principles of ‘sites’ with clear boundaries, and named ‘site operators’ with legal duties to deliver agreed overall management plans for the overall protection of the environment including, for example, air pollution.

Although the NFU is committed to working within the Defra advisory group to find ways of delivering a smooth transition into EPR for farmer-abstractors, we are clear that the switch must not be activated unless and until there are clear advantages for licence holders in doing so.

Defra plans to consult on its EPR and abstraction proposals in 2020, and to migrate the regulation of abstraction and impoundment licensing into the EPR regime in 2021. The current timetable may slip.

Defra’s current plan is that if the switch to EPR for abstraction becomes reality, then nothing will noticeably change on ‘day one’. No documents will be re-issued and all existing licences will remain in force.

However applications for new licences, including renewals for time-limited licences and licence variations, will then be determined under the new regulations and will be issued as an environmental permits.

You can read more here about the Environment Agency approach to abstraction and EPR.

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