A reservoir of meaning

A NEW farm reservoir can involve at least 10 different bodies and organisations, each with a host of restrictions and requirements and a myriad of regulations.

These can be overcome, but farmers aiming to combat water shortages with their own stored supply need to plan ahead to ensure they follow the line of least resistance. This means taking into account matters which may seem far removed from the project.

The exceptionally dry conditions this year have brought constant queries about reservoirs to the CLA eastern region office. Planning permission and whether it is needed, is the most frequently raised question, but the system is complex. Obtaining necessary consents from the various bodies can take many months and involve considerable up-front costs. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)’s Fruit and Vegetable Task Force, in its final report at the end of last year, acknowledged planning “can be a challenge”.

It suggested the emerging national planning policy framework (NPPF) should make better provision for reservoirs, but the latest draft makes no specific mention. There is a general paragraph on “supporting the rural economy” which could prove useful, but to what extent will depend on the final wording.

It is possible that ministers, as part of their push for simplification (and with the evidence before them of underperforming crops) may move to free up matters. However, that will require joined-up thinking. Therefore, the CLA is talking to a wide range of officials to highlight the essential need for additional reservoir capacity and discuss ways of reducing the obstacles. Lessening the requirement for extensive and disproportionate up-front information seems to be a common goal – a clear indication of the willingness to listen. But, of equal importance, is the need for well-conceived projects that set out to minimise any potential problems from the outset.

One of the issues that must be addressed is the belief, outside the farming industry, that a reservoir is not the main objective – simply the end result of mineral extraction. Certainly, income from minerals is likely to be forthcoming, especially on the lighter soils where water is most needed and is a welcome contribution towards construction costs, but rarely is it the prime consideration. Nonetheless, largely unfounded fears can add frustrating delays and accelerate costs.

Siting and design can go a long way to overcoming opposition. While engineering will dictate the most appropriate site, the many ways in which a reservoir can enhance the environment and landscape should be highlighted to both the authorities and the local community. Avoid sites of scientific, environmental or archaeological value, areas near to housing and public rights of way.

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While planning consent is required for many reservoirs, some can be constructed without the need for full permission; this is through the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. They have to be ‘reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture within the unit’ and must not involve the removal of minerals from the holding.

There are a number of other limitations - size, proximity to roads, etc - and the rights provided under the order do not obviate the need to obtain other consents where appropriate.

For example, designations such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty will have an effect, but the order is worth considering so long as specialist advice is taken.

With the onset of more stringent enforcement regulations next year, doing something without planning permission when it is required is not an option worth considering.

Planning apart, these are some of the current regulations which are easy to overlook and they are by no means exhaustive:

n Single Farm Payment – Cross Compliance

n Habitats Directive,

n Land Drainage Act

n Felling Licences

n Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations

n Flood and Water Management Act 2010: It is not yet clear whether a capacity of 10,000 or 25,000 cubic metres will trigger the regulations contained in this Act. Regardless, the requirement to conduct a flood risk assessment looks likely to affect many reservoirs.