Future changes to abstraction licences – what you need to know

26 April 2023

Environment and climate
A field of potatoes being irrigated

The EA (Environment Agency) is continuing to review abstraction licences to ensure abstraction is sustainable. Find out what you need to know about current and future activity the EA is undertaking to restore sustainable abstraction, and the potential impacts and implications for your business, by downloading our latest briefing.

The Water Abstraction Plan 2017 aims to address unsustainable abstraction. The EA has been working on a number of programmes to look at abstraction across all sectors to ensure it is sustainable and does not pose a risk of damage to the environment.

These programmes of work could affect both time limited (TLL) and permanent abstraction licences (licences of right).

NFU members can log in to download our briefing summarising the EA's current and future activity to restore sustainable abstraction and the potential impacts and implications it could have for their businesses: EA Unsustainable Abstraction Briefing January 2023

Latest briefing update

The Environment Agency have provided further guidance to abstraction licence holders with time limited licences due to expire in 2024. 

NFU members can log in to download our briefing which gives an update to the previous briefing from December 2022: Environment Agency - Preventing Deterioration and the Impact on Abstraction Licences 

Whilst abstraction licences could be renewed, it is important that members review their water requirements and plan for the future.

From 2028, the Environment Agency is likely to review all licences in a catchment within a ‘Catchment Review’ and investigate sustainability of abstraction across permanent and time limited licences. If there is a risk of damage to the environment from abstraction, licence volumes could be reduced/revoked and, under the powers within the Environment Act 2021, compensation would not be payable to permanent licence holders.

Environment Act 2021 – important changes

The Environment Act 2021 allows the Secretary of State to vary or revoke permanent abstraction licences without payment of compensation from 1 January 2028, if necessary, to protect the environment. Currently, these clauses apply only where there is a risk of “serious damage” to the environment.

This position will change in England on 1 January 2028, when permanent licences may be varied or revoked in England without paying compensation, if it is necessary to protect the environment.

An abstraction licence may also be varied without compensation in order to remove excess headroom (water that is authorised but not abstracted).

These changes are only applicable to abstraction licences that are permanent licences and in England.

The EA will be writing to licence holders in catchments where they believe there may be environmental damage caused by unsustainable abstraction to let them know they will be reviewing the licences in their catchment and may need to make changes to the licence to make it more sustainable.

Changing licences into permits?

In December 2021, Defra consulted on plans to move abstraction licencing into the Environmental Permitting Regulations. The consultation focused on the policies and regulations, rather than whether the move should take place, so, in the absence of any contrary suggestions, it seems likely that this change will be implemented.

The NFU provided a detailed response to the consultation: Changing abstraction licences into permits – NFU response

Defra has still not published its response to the consultation, so it is unclear what the next steps will be or what the current timeline is.

How the NFU can support you

NFU members can obtain free initial legal and professional advice by calling NFU CallFirst on 0370 845 8458. If you require more detailed independent legal advice in your particular circumstances, NFU CallFirst can refer you to one of the NFU’s legal panel firms.

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