Defra has confirmed plans outlined in its ‘Improving our management of water in the environment’ consultation, to allow the Environment Agency (EA) to vary or revoke water abstraction licences without paying compensation.
This comes following concerns some older water abstraction licences may pose a risk to the environment during particular times of the year.
Defra says: ‘We expect the Environment Agency to provide data and evidence as to why a licence needs to be varied or revoked to protect the environment.
‘We want to protect licence holders’ ability to abstract where it is fair and right to do so. As such, these powers would only be used by the Environment Agency after other solutions have been exhausted.’
These proposals were strongly opposed in the consultation by the agriculture and food sectors, according to Defra, while a majority of other sectors agreed with the plans, with respondents stating taxpayers or other abstractors should not be required to compensate those who are causing environmental damage through unsustainable abstraction, according to the report.
Those opposing stated that licences represented a business asset and a property right and losing the whole, or part, of the licence with no compensation could have a serious adverse effect on food production, business growth and contravened property rights.
Respondents including the NFU and CLA, argued that abstractors had been paying into a compensation pot for many years and access should not be retrospectively blocked.
Some respondents stated that, unlike water companies, the agriculture sector could not pass on the costs of additional investment to find alternative solutions to its customers.
The new legislation will only apply to licences varied or revoked on or after 1 January 2028 and the appeals process will still apply. CLA has labelled the move ‘disappointing’.