Defra consults on changing abstraction licences into permits

13 May 2022

A worker sprays water on plants in a greenhouse

The NFU has responded to a Defra consultation setting out its proposals to transfer abstraction licences into the Environmental Permitting Regime (EPR).

The consultation, which closed on 22 December 2021, applies to abstraction in England only but similar provisions are being developed in Wales.

The NFU position on abstraction and EPR is that we oppose the proposed changes because:

  • The activity of abstraction is a poor regulatory fit for EPR.
  • It will lead to reduced certainty of access to supplies of water because all permits will be reviewable by the Environment Agency.
  • Abstractors face the erosion of historic rights because EPR includes no compensation provisions.
  • Enforcement and compliance of the EPR regime will increase the burden of administration and increase business costs.

Applications for permits

The consultation proposes that, from a fixed date (not yet specified, probably in 2023), all new abstraction applications will be treated as applications for permits.

From that date, all existing abstraction and impounding licences will automatically and legally become environmental permits referred to as ‘converted’ (or transitional) permits.

Relevant legal documents

Existing licences holders will automatically become ‘operators’ (as defined by EPR) for the duration of the term of the converted (transitional) permit.

Existing conditions in the licence will remain the same and there will be no re-issue of any documents as part of the move – paper licences will continue to be the relevant legal document for a converted (transitional) permit.

Thereafter licences will gradually migrate into EPR and become full permits.

Complex legal issues

The Defra consultation described how different types of current authorisation will change after the switch to EPR – permanent and time limited licences, spray and trickle irrigation, groundwater investigation consents and impoundment licences.

Much of the content of the consultation dealt with complex legal issues such as appeals, compliance and enforcement, vesting of permits and duties for climate change adaptation and the NFU has developed clear positions on each topic.

Members can read the NFU consultation response here.

Government response

The government response is expected in summer 2022 after they consider and analyse 100 responses to the consultation.

While we wait for further guidance, we have updated information following consultation with the Environment Agency.

Member briefing

Regarding several points to do with wording in the consultation, there is a need for clearer detail. 

In our briefing for members, we take a look at these areas and try to answer some pressing questions.

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