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  • by Karma Loveday

OEP: Government off track and may be non-compliant with some WFD requirements

The Government and Environment Agency are significantly off track on environmental objectives for rivers and other water bodies, and have not complied with the requirements of the relevant regulations in a number of areas. That was the conclusion of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) in its report last week, A review of implementation of the Water Framework Directive Regulations and River Basin Management Planning in England.

The OEP examined whether the Government’s plans (via RBMPs) to improve England’s waterways are likely to achieve the WFD target to have 77% in Good Ecological Status or Potential by 2027. It found they are “not on track” and in fact: “The OEP’s worst case assessment would see just 21% of surface waters in Good Ecological state by 2027, representing only a 5% improvement on the current situation.”

Among the "serious barriers” identified were insufficient investment; improvement plans being too generic and not specific to locations; lack of certainty, pace and clear deadlines to implement measures; and inadequate governance.

The watchdog also identified a number of areas where the Government and the EA may not have complied with the requirements of the regulations. "These include: the setting of Environmental Objectives for water bodies with clear ‘low confidence’; the lack of specific information showing when and how objectives for individual water bodies will be met; the justification of approved ‘exemptions’ from the objectives in the regulations; and issues of public participation and consultation.”

Dame Glenys Stacey, OEP chair, said: “We have found that, while the relevant law here is broadly sound, it is simply not being implemented effectively. This means it is not delivering as intended and, as a consequence, most of our open water is likely to remain in a poor state in the years ahead unless things change. This is deeply concerning.

“While we know that there are dedicated and professional people working hard to improve the condition of our rivers, as in so many other aspects of the environment, government must now ensure substantial funding for a wider range of specific action, at pace and with ambition. Without such measures, we assess that the commitment by Government and the Environment Agency to bring 77% of surface water bodies to a good ecological condition by 2027 will be missed by a considerable margin.

“There is a significant need to strengthen how environmental law on water is applied to make sure it is working effectively and is making the important contribution that it needs to, to achieving Government’s wider goals and targets. There is a particularly urgent need for additional measures to be in place and for measures to be targeted at a local level, if there is to be any hope of achieving the 2027 targets. Government must speed up and scale up its efforts to protect and improve our waters.”

The report made 15 recommendations. A Government response must be laid before Parliament within three months. The OEP said it will decide what further steps may need to be taken once it has seen the response.


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