EA to skip environmental assessment of river basin management plans

The Environment Agency (EA) has announced that it does not intend to carry out a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) for the third cycle of river basin management plans (RBMPs).

While the decision is still subject to consultation, the EA said the third cycle of updates to the RBMPs were “unlikely to have significant environmental effects” and as such, it “does not intend to carry out an environmental assessment and prepare an environmental report for the plans”.

RBMPs are intended to set out how organisations, stakeholders and communities can work together to improve the water environment. They take into account the current state of the water environment, as well as pressures affecting the water environment, environmental objectives for protecting and improving the waters, measures needed to achieve the objectives and progress since the previous plan.

The first cycle of RBMPs were published in 2009 and set the framework for protecting and enhancing the water environment from 2009 to 2015. The second cycle of river basin plans, which reviewed and significantly updated the RBMPs, were published in 2016. The EA has now started the review and update of the third cycle of river basin management plans. They will be subject to a six month consultation, to be launched this year, according to the agency.

The EA carried out an SEA for both the first and second cycle of RBMPs but in a report published yesterday, the agency said it did not intend to carry one out for the third cycle.

It said the most significant change to the measures in the third cycle would result from the water industry price review 2019 (PR19) and the development of the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP). 

The EA said the “vast majority of WINEP measures are concerned with water quality improvements associated with phosphorus discharge limits”. 

It added that phosphorus had been identified and assessed in previous rounds of river basin management planning with measures “determined to be environmentally beneficial”. “Although the new improvement measures will lead to a water quality improvement within the  river basin district they do not constitute a significant change that requires further assessment from previous cycles of RBMPs,” the EA said.

The EA said it accepted that there may be changes in the agricultural sector and land management as a result of Brexit and the new Environmental Land Management scheme. It said that, from an agricultural perspective, the measures are unlikely to change significantly from cycle two and any environmental impacts are considered to be beneficial.

The EA accepted that the development of the new chemicals strategy may lead to new measures in some water bodies. 

“Measures will be updated in line with abstraction reform, including the catchment based approach and developing inter-regional transfers,” the EA said. However, it added “these changes are not yet known”. 

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