Greener UK and Wildlife and Countryside Link have called for Clause 79 of the Environment Bill, which would give the government a wide-ranging power to amend the regulations that implement the Water Framework Directive, to be deleted – or amended “to ensure that targets and standards cannot be weakened without thorough public consultation and scientific advice”.
The groups – coalitions of environmental groups with a combined 8m members – said: “There may be some justification for a power to make technical updates to regulations, but this should not be a licence to weaken important targets via secondary legislation. England is already far behind its target of achieving Good Ecological Status in all waters by 2027. The government should not be using the Environment Bill to give itself powers to amend difficult targets or the way they are measured.”
Greener UK added the Bill also misses positive opportunities to improve the water environment. It called for:
A clause to specify a target for “a rapid and sustainable reduction in water consumption. Anything less will be a significant missed opportunity as the next legislative vehicle to deliver this may be several years away.”
A power to establish ‘no abstraction zones’ around priority freshwater habitats where there is evidence of damage by abstraction.
A mandatory water efficiency labelling scheme, linked to minimum standards for fittings and incorporated into building regulations.
A strategic programme to further the conservation, at a catchment scale, of small water bodies and wetland habitats, under the framework of a national Nature Recovery Network.
Clauses on Land Drainage powers to be amended to ensure they do not undermine the objectives of the Bill.
Greener UK and Wildlife and Countryside Link shared a host of wider concerns in a briefing produced for the Second Reading of the Bill in Parliament.
Concerns included a call for “a straightforward and substantive commitment to non-regression of environmental law”; a stronger framework for legally binding green targets; “wholesale reform” of the clauses on environmental principles “if they are to achieve equivalence let alone approach world leading legislation”; and strengthening of the independence and powers of the Office for Environmental Protection.