New NVZs designated in England

Areas covering 47% of England were designated as nitrate vulnerable zones by regulations which came into force on 7 October.1

NVZs now cover 55% of England. The extra designations were forced on the Government by the threat of legal action over its failure to comply fully with the 1991 EU Directive on nitrate from agriculture. The Government then proposed designation of 80% or 100% of England, but was forced to back off by farmer protests (ENDS Report 330, pp 45-46 ).

Farmers within the newly designated NVZs will have to begin complying with an action programme to curb nitrate leaching from 19 December.

However, they have until December 2006 to begin complying with a whole-farm limit of 170kg/ha/yr for nitrogen applied via organic manures. Until then the limit is 250kg/ha.

It is not self-evident that this four-year transition is consistent with the Directive, which provides for the 170kg/ha to be deferred for four years for originally designated NVZs or those added following formal four-yearly reviews, rather than for belated designations made under the threat of legal action.

The regulations allow anyone whose land is included within an NVZ to seek, by 19 December, a review of the designation by a person appointed by the Secretary of State, who will be bound by the reviewer's decision. They also provide for appeals against the reviewer's proposed decision to a panel appointed by the Secretary of State, and the reviewer's final decision must be "consistent with" the panel's determination.

These arrangements allow less scope for challenging NVZ designations than in Wales. In England, the only basis for seeking a review is a "factual error" in the application of the methodology used in making the designations.2 There will be no possibility of challenging the methodology itself.

In Wales, in contrast, this summer's NVZ regulations allow for a "mandatory reassessment" of designations without specifying any grounds (ENDS Report 332, p 39 ).

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