NFU: Draft Water Bill - Making Sense for Farmers11 May 2012
UK - In the Queen’s Speech on 9 May, it was announced that a draft Water Bill will be published to reform the water industry in England and Wales.
The Water White Paper, published in December 2011, promised that government would 'publish a draft water bill for pre-legislative scrutiny in early 2012 and introduce a water bill as soon as parliamentary time allows'.
Defra stated that a draft Bill will be published before summer recess and will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. It is likely that the Bill itself will not be put before MPs until the third session of parliament (2013).
The draft Bill is expected to meet the remaining legislative commitments set out in the Water White Paper. The detail has yet to emerge but Defra indicate that it will:
- Implement the package of retail and upstream market reforms.
- Allow complementary changes to Ofwat’s regulatory regime.
- Allow the scope of the environmental permitting regulations to be extended from prevention of pollution to include abstraction and impounding of water. This extension will also cover flood defence and fish pass consents.
- And make minor changes to existing legislation to reduce and simplify regulatory and administrative burdens.
Most of the discussion and commentary on the draft Bill is that it aims to improve competitiveness and efficiency of the water industry. A reform of the abstraction regime is not explicitly mentioned in the list above but we do expect it to be included as part of the market reforms – and we have a great interest in how this will be undertaken.
The National Farmers Union's (NFU) view on this is that water is critical to many agricultural businesses and security of supply is utmost in the minds of farmers and growers. The NFU recognises that water abstraction regime has to be fit for purpose and be able to address future challenges such as climate change and increasing demand, but agriculture must have continued and fair access to water. Agriculture in England and Wales uses only about 1 per cent of the abstracted water supply in England and Wales but behind this figure there are some important seasonal and regional variations in water use.
On the proposals to increase the scope of the environmental permitting regulations to include other regimes, including abstraction, The NFU questions the benefits of the extension for industry and we will be examining government’s justifications for this carefully.
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