Green watchdog tweaks river basin plans following consultation feedback

The Environment Agency has announced adjustments to its proposals for updating current river basin management plans (RBMPs) as it published responses to the first of three consultations due before the plans are refreshed in December 2021.

There were 148 respondents to the Working Together consultation, which ran between June and December 2018, from stakeholders including the water industry, local authorities, catchment groups, local wildlife groups and research.

Among the agency's summary of the key points were: other strategies, lessons to learn, slowing progress and catchment partnerships.

Other strategies

a need to consider plans and strategies beyond those cited in the consultation, such as those relating to mine water, climate change, agricultural initiatives and protected areas. Respondents said in particular the Agency should: look at how it works with local and combined authorities to ensure local development plans maintain or improve the water environment; make better reference to national marine policy and consider transitional and coastal waters more; and consider the new drainage and wastewater management plans.

Lessons to learn

respondents called on the agency to learn lessons from previous updates, cross-border working, and incorporating the natural capital approach.

Slowing progress

while most felt the timetable set out was realistic and achievable, the agency has decided to slow the current phase of work to update the RBMPs. It explained: “As such, the challenges and choices consultation will now start five months later than planned in October 2019 (closing April 2020) and the consultation on the draft updated plans will now begin four months later in October 2020 (closing April 2021). The date to publish the approved updated plans stays the same.”

Catchment partnerships

There was mixed feedback on the catchment partnerships. Respondents both recognised the groups’ positive contribution to implementing an integrated approach to improving local rivers, but said that the inclusivity and representation on some groups could be improved. The Agency reported it had raised this issue at the national Water Leaders Group and with the Catchment Based Approach National Support Group. It added it will be conducting a review of the membership of the national Water Leaders Group after concerns aired about is inclusiveness and effectiveness.

The current river basin management plans were published in February 2016 and must be reviewed and updated every six years.