River basin planning programmes clarified

The Environment Agency and its Scottish equivalent have spelt out how the river basin planning process required by the water framework Directive will work in practice.

The agencies’ plans have been released for public comment and address two main issues: the river basin planning timetable and consultation procedures.

The single Plan of action from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) covers the various river catchments making up its unified river basin district, while the Environment Agency has published ten parallel consultation documents covering each of the river basin districts in England and Wales under the joint title Working together.1,2 There is also a jointly released consultation for the Solway Tweed district which crosses the English-Scottish border.3

In England and Wales, every river basin district has a central liaison panel made up of regional stakeholders and the plans list panel members’ names and affiliations. They also explain which organisations and/or people are statutory consultees - a group that includes water industry regulator Ofwat, the Environment Secretary, local authorities and water companies - and which other organisations are considered to have a significant contribution to make to river basin planning. The latter include regional assemblies, farmers, environmental groups and water customers.

Each plan sets out the stages at which these groups will be consulted and whether it will be through a meeting, publication, event, website or by email.

There have been calls for more localised fora within river basin districts but the Environment Agency has decided it would be more efficient to use its existing consultation procedures and other pre-existing stakeholder groups (ENDS Report 379, pp 19-20 ).

SEPA has taken a slightly different tack, establishing a national advisory panel, below which sit eight area advisory groups. Each of these will be informed by an area advisory forum that meets less regularly and is open to everyone. SEPA’s plan also suggests some more unusual methods of stakeholder communication and consultation, including interviews, adverts and site visits.

The proposed timetable is the same across the districts and generally follows the guidance released last year by the Environment Department (DEFRA), the Welsh Assembly Government and SEPA (ENDS Report 372, pp 42-43 ). This indicated that the current consultation should last until the summer, to be followed in June 2008 by the release of draft river basin management plans. Final versions of the plans will be published in December 2009 and the programme of measures required to meet the Directive’s targets will begin in 2012.

The only clear difference is that the Environment Agency has pushed forward the process of identifying "significant water management issues" in each English and Welsh river basin districts by six months. Consultation on these will begin this summer.

River basin planning will be subject to strategic environmental assessment and the plans also lay out timetables for this process. Each district will release a scoping study alongside the consultation on significant water management issues, to be followed by an environmental report and strategic environmental assessment statement, which will accompany the draft and final management plan respectively.

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