Farmers’ leaders say proposals on water abstraction licences are “extremely concerning”

FARMERS’ leaders have described Government proposals to withdraw water abstraction licences in certain cases of “serious damage” without paying compensation as “extremely concerning”.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) consultation on the Water Act 2003 contains proposals that could leave farmers without a licence to abstract water, and no right of compensation, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has warned.

The NFU argues DEFRA has been unclear over what would constitute the ‘serious damage’ that would justify the withdrawal of an abstraction licence, and that not enough emphasis will be placed on exploring all alternative options before withdrawal.

NFU chief environment adviser Dr Diane Mitchell said: “We have considerable concerns with the proposed principles in the current draft and how these may be used to determine ‘serious damage’. The approach is complex and the criteria for assessment are un-measurable and open to differing interpretations, while the process for determination of any proposed withdrawal is not transparent and generally very unsatisfactory.

“We also have concerns about how this fits with the Human Rights Act, as farmers will effectively be deprived of their property without compensation, and we’ve asked DEFRA to be mindful of its duty to act in accordance with the Act as it looks to implement this provision.

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“Farmers are just as much custodians of the countryside as anyone else, and it is in their interests to ensure there is enough natural resource. That’s why we are very keen to ensure that all alternative options are used before the ‘serious damage’ test is considered or exercised. As drafted, we cannot see how the current process could be deemed to be fair or, more importantly, transparent to our members.”

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