Defra consultation targets abstraction licence changes.

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A new Defra consultation is seeking views on a range of proposals to improve the management of water in the environment and our resilience to flooding and droughts.

Proposals of greatest potential impact to irrigators are those relating to the regulatory system for water abstraction and how it could change.

Against this backdrop of ongoing regulatory activity, Defra is seeking views on the proposed introduction of two additional powers that it believes could help the Environment Agency to protect the environment from ‘unsustainable abstraction’.

Firstly, Defra is proposing to extend the circumstances in which abstraction licences which are causing, or could cause, environmental damage can be revoked or varied without compensation being payable to the licence holder. Currently, those powers are limited to extremely rare cases of ‘serious damage’. The breadth of environmental harm designed to be caught by new provisions would impact around 1,500 abstraction licences.

Secondly, Defra proposes giving the Environment Agency powers to remove the unused part of a licence without compensation, and is seeking views on what might constitute an ‘under-used’ licence in term of its volume and duration. If introduced this proposal would represent a major extension of existing provisions which apply to abstraction licences that are completely unused for four consecutive years

If delivered into law, these regulations could have a major impact on ‘historic rights’ currently enjoyed by older non-time limited licences.

The NFU supports the principle of Defra’s water abstraction plan and accepts that the current abstraction licensing system may need to change but is concerned about the erosion of rights without access to compensation if those rights are removed.

Paul Hammett, NFU water specialist, that the NFU would canvass the views of its members before submitting its detailed views to Defra.

“Growers of irrigated crops need access to secure supplies of water, and make business investment decisions based on the assumption that their licensed quantities will remain available – and they will be compensated if the rules change”, he said.

Defra’s consultation ‘Improving our Management of Water in the Environment’ is wide-ranging and divided into three main sections:

  1. Long-term planning for water resources
  2. Long-term planning for drainage
  3. Flooding and coastal erosion risk management

This briefing note outlines the key water resources issues contained in the Defra consultation.

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The full consultation, including instructions about how to respond, can be found here. The deadline for comments to Defra is 12 March.

If you have comments to help the NFU with its response on behalf of all members, please contact us by 1 March.

Send comments related to water resources to cGF1bC5oYW1tZXR0QG5mdS5vcmcudWs=

Send comments relating to flooding and drainage to bWhhcmkuYmFybmVzQG5mdS5vcmcudWs=

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