18-12-2013 10:19 AM | CLA, News

Government urged to plug 'unfair' loophole in Water Bill

As MPs prepare to debate the Water Bill during its committee stage tomorrow (17 December) the CLA is urging that support be given to an amendment proposed by Roger Williams MP that would limit the potential liability of landowners when the Environment Agency stops maintaining flood defences.

As a result of funding pressures and policy changes the Environment Agency and other authorities are withdrawing from long-standing flood defence commitments, which may have been in place for decades.

This puts people who own land adjoining rivers in a vulnerable position. If they fail to take responsibility for maintaining flood defences, which can be cripplingly expensive, they could face legal action from neighbouring landowners.

CLA Deputy President Ross Murray said: “The CLA believes this is massively unfair, which is why we support this amendment, to limit the liability faced by landowners when the Environment Agency or other authority withdraws from maintaining flood defences.

“The potential for legal action is an unintended consequence of the Environment Agency’s changing priorities, so I would hope that this issue is debated fully by the Committee. The potentially disastrous effects on landowners across the country must be considered before this Bill progresses any further.”

The National Farmers' Union said reform of the 50-year-old abstraction licensing regime must ensure a fair share of water for farming.

Environment minister Dan Rogerson has launched a Government consultation which the NFU believes will provide an ideal opportunity to deliver a new system that makes the link between food security and water security.

NFU water resources specialist Paul Hammett said: “NFU members want more flexibility in how they use water, but their top priority is security of supply. How can we create a system that is responsive to drought conditions and how will water be shared out when there’s just not enough to go around? Farmers want to be reassured that a new system will give farmers fair and equitable access to water - something that’s missing from the current system.

“The consultation also includes proposals to make trading water much quicker and easier. Trading is definitely part of the jigsaw but why wait for complicated reform? Let’s look at the existing trading rules and see how we can make them work better now.”

The NFU will now be consulting widely with its members’ to explain the implications of Defra’s proposals and to obtain their views.

CLA President Henry Robinson said: “We know there will be increased pressure on water supply in the future because of population increases and changes in weather patterns. However, it is vital agriculture and land managers are treated fairly in any reform of the system.

“Any new system has to be better linked to water availability, be more flexible and allow trading to take place easily with agriculture receiving a fair allocation. We need a new licensing system that works well when it is introduced after 2020.”

However, the CLA President added: “We must not forget the potential impact of transition from the old to the new on many farmers and land managers. Essentially this reform will initiate a redistribution of the water rights which underpin the value of land and rural business.

“Even licences of right that are not currently being used have a value because they are taken into consideration in business plans and mortgage lending. The Government needs to recognise this and take steps to halt any blight to land values.”


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