Cash-strapped NRA pleads for bigger grant

The National Rivers Authority (NRA) is seeking at least an extra £18 million from the Department of the Environment (DoE) over the next three years, its latest corporate plan reveals.1 The money is needed to counter pollution from abandoned mines and contaminated land, and to implement statutory water quality objectives (SWQOs). But even with the extra cash the NRA would lack the resources to solve pressing low-flow problems, enforce critical abstraction licences, and pay for extra accommodation.

The NRA's bid follows a 12% mid-year cut in its DoE grant for 1991/2 (ENDS Report 201, p 4), and a 15% cut in its anticipated grant for 1992/3 (ENDS Report 202, pp 4-5). The cuts were made after the NRA blotted its copybook with the DoE by overspending by 165% on its new head office in Bristol, as a parliamentary inquiry revealed earlier this year (ENDS Report 207, p 25 ).

The new corporate plan is based on the assumption that the DoE's grant will amount to £242 million over the next three years, as announced by the Government last autumn. But the NRA has also come back with a strong plea for extra cash.

It has asked for an extra £6 million over the next three years to support the introduction of SWQOs, which will set legally binding targets for river and estuarine quality for the first time (ENDS Report 203, pp 10-12). The programme is due to begin early in 1993, with the first SWQOs for estuaries coming in in 1995, but exactly how fast it is completed will depend on the resources available to the NRA.

The plan reveals that no extra staff can be recruited into the pollution control function after 1992/3 with the present level of grant. And even an extra £2 million per year from 1993/4 would not cover the costs of environmental cost-benefit analyses, public consultation and legal fees which may be incurred as the SWQO programme proceeds.

Another £8 million is being sought over the next three years to tackle pollution from abandoned mines, which affects 450 kilometres of monitored river lengths and at least as much again in unmonitored lengths. The NRA needs the money to develop a phased rehabilitation programme, plus some capital works at important sites.

The Wheal Jane mine in Cornwall, which polluted the river Carnon with a massive discharge of metal-laden water in January, is a priority for remediation, at a cost of £0.6 million.

A further £4 million is needed over three years for a survey of pollution caused by contaminated land and clean-up works at priority sites. A bid for £10 million per year for the same purpose in the NRA's first corporate plan was turned down by the Government.

The new plan also points to the financial obstacles facing the NRA in implementing solutions to the growing problem of low river flows. Multi-million pound schemes could not be funded through its water resources account, which is supported by abstractors. They would require extra DoE grants, although no bid for this has been made this time round.

The plan reveals that the squeeze on the NRA's finances is making its mark in other areas. In 1991/2, it carried out only 9,200 of the 14,650 "critical" and "highly critical" inspections of compliance with abstraction licences, and inspections will be well below target again this year. Its R & D budget was cut by 18% from the £10.7 million budget in last year's plan. And some regions are short of office and other accommodation.

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