DCLG Consults on Planning Proposals

Government Policy – “Making the planning system work more efficiently and effectively”

March 30th 2014

The Department for Communities and Local Government is currently holding a consultation on the implementation of two proposals in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement 2013. Both proposals form part of the government’s policy to make the planning system work more efficiently and effectively.

The first proposal is for a new threshold for designating local planning authorities as under-performing, while the second proposal is for a 10-unit threshold for Section 106 affordable housing contributions. The latter proposal is intended to reduce costs for smaller builders, but the move has been criticised by the Planning Officers Society who argue that the the ability of local planning authorities to deliver much needed affordable housing will be reduced by the move. Nicky Linihan of the Planning Officers Society said that the “setting of thresholds for affordable housing should be done at local level, rather than taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach.”

For details of the consultation, including a briefing paper, see Government Consultations – Planning Performance and Planning Contributions.

Further information on the government’s proposals with regard to planning, as outlined in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, can be found on the Inside Housing website at www.insidehousing.co.uk/as2013-section-106-exemption-for-small-developments/6529836.article.

For details of the Planning Officers Society’s response to the proposals, click here.


EEA – Water pollution is ‘decoupling’ from economic growth

European households are generating lower levels of nutrient pollution in water, says the EEA

March 29th 2014

Data published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) shows that, despite a growing population, European households are generating lower levels of nutrient pollution in water. Levels of some pollutants from the manufacturing and agricultural sectors of the European economy have also fallen, while at the same time the sectors have grown in terms of economic productivity.

The EEA uses three indicators which examine the economic aspects of water usage and water pollution in Europe. The indicators look at pollutant emissions from households, manufacturing industries and the agricultural sector, and compare the pollution to economic factors. As the EEA explains, the aim of many environmental policies is ‘absolute decoupling’, which means that economies continue to grow while environmental impacts decrease. ‘Relative decoupling’ means that environmental impacts continue to increase but at a lower rate than economic growth.

The latest figures published by the EEA show that, while nutrient pollution is still a significant problem, the levels of pollution have fallen across Europe as a whole. The data also shows that manufacturers have made significant cuts in their emissions of heavy metals to water in recent years. These trends are not uniform however. According to the EEA’s figures, a small number of countries exhibit either an increase in pollutant levels or a fall in economic productivity.

Whilst the EEA data shows the latest trends, it remains to be seen what impact future changes in climate may have on the figures. Researchers working on a project called “Nutrients in Catchments to 2050” have concluded that more intensive rainfall, of the sort that the UK has recently experienced, is likely to wash more fertiliser out of the soil and into rivers, leading to an increase in pollution – see the news item “Wetter winters could increase pollution in the UK’s rivers, say scientists”.

For further information on the EEA’s figures, including breakdowns of the data by country and by sector, see “Water: nutrient and heavy metal pollution ‘decoupling’ from growth”.

Sustainability Live 2014

Showcasing the latest technologies and innovations in energy efficiency, energy recovery, water and waste water management

March 28th 2014

Sustainability Live will take place next week at the NEC in Birmingham. Held over three days, from Tuesday the 1st to Thursday the 3rd of April, the event is actually three events which all take place under one roof, showcasing the latest technologies and innovations in energy efficiency, energy recovery, water and waste water management.

The event features over 200 exhibitors and a full timetable of keynote speakers and presentations, including a joint presentation by hydrogeologist Steve Buss from the environmental consultancy ESI Ltd and Jodie Whitehead from Severn Trent Water. The title of their presentation: Is catchment management feasible for securing good quality public water supply from groundwater?

Summary: a catchment management approach to reducing nitrate concentrations

Severn Trent Water has investigated 36 groundwater sources in its AMP5 phase of the National Environment Programme. The purpose of this investigation was to assess whether catchment management could be used to significantly improve raw water quality. Of the 36 sources, 33 were investigated for nitrate, three for pesticides and one each for solvents and Cryptosporidium. This presentation will focus on the work undertaken on the sources at risk of rising nitrate concentrations.

The work looked at information on historical loading of nitrate in the groundwater source catchments. Using this information, models were developed to trend historical concentration data. The models were then used to forecast future concentration trends. In most cases, it was confidently shown that concentrations will either level out or start to decline within the next ten to twenty years. Some others will be taken out of public supply because of sustainability reductions. This allowed the focus of the investigation to shift on the remainder.

A combination of ‘light touch’ measures was identified that would not compromise farm profitability; but these measures are expected to result in less than a 10% reduction in nitrate loading at the catchment scale. Greater loading reductions could only be achieved by significant changes in agricultural practice, but these are considered unfeasible given the timescales that are involved in subsurface nitrate movement. Consequently, operational management of the sources, or an upgrade of existing treatment works, has been proposed. However, more confident predictions of future concentrations show that peak concentrations will be achieved later, and at lower levels, than originally expected.

Consultation work has shown that Severn Trent customers and stakeholders strongly support greater catchment management and partnership working to protect raw water sources and to avoid the need for expensive treatment. To ensure that this is the case, cost benefit assessments have also been undertaken alongside catchment investigations. The overall conclusion was that catchment management has a lower whole life cost compared to traditional treatment solutions and has the potential to be cost effective for Severn Trent Water.

Notes to Editors

Sustainability Live consists of three events which all take place under one roof. One event, organised by NEMEX, showcases energy efficiency, carbon management, building energy management systems, and renewable energy. The second, organised by Energy Recovery, showcases the latest technology for minimising waste and converting waste to energy. The third, organised by IWEX, showcases water and wastewater management. For further information, see Sustainability Live.

The Environment Agency’s National Environment Programme sets out the environmental improvement schemes which will ensure that water companies deliver on their commitments, including those set by EU Directives, such as the Water Framework Directive and Habitats Directive and national targets.

AMP: Asset Management Programme.

Wetter winters could increase pollution in the UK’s rivers, say scientists

More intensive rainfall is likely to wash more fertiliser out of the soil and into rivers

March 27th 2014

A research team, led by Professor Philip Haygarth of Lancaster University, has concluded that wetter winters could increase pollution in the UK’s rivers.

The researchers are working on a project called “Nutrients in Catchments to 2050” and the team also includes researchers from Bangor University, Liverpool University, and the Met Office. The aim of the project is to investigate how climate change combined with changes in agricultural practice are likely to affect the UK’s waterways. The project is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) under the Changing Water Cycle (CWC) programme

The results so far have led to the conclusion that more intensive rainfall, like the kind the UK has recently experienced, is likely to wash more fertiliser out of the soil and into rivers. These extra nutrients could artificially nourish plants, including toxic algae. Changes in temperature are likely to exacerbate the problem, with drier summers producing cracked soils, thereby enabling rainwater to flow more easily through the resulting channels.

The researchers are using computational models of climate change together with direct measurements of water quality. A number of different scenarios are used to predict how much fertiliser the soil will be able to absorb, and how much will be washed into rivers.

Notes to Editors

Changing Water Cycle is a research programme funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) which will develop an integrated, quantitative understanding of the changes taking place in the global water cycle. The programme has twelve interconnected projects and the details can be found here.

Details of the “Nutrients in Catchments to 2050” project can be found here.

Water Bill – House of Lords debates abstraction reform

Members of the house discuss upstream competition, a national affordability scheme and sustainable development

March 26th 2014

The government’s Water Bill has reached report stage in the House of Lords. Day One (Tuesday 25th March) saw a discussion of a number of government amendments regarding abstraction reform. In the course of the debate, members of the house discussed upstream competition, a national affordability scheme and sustainable development.

Lord de Mauley, speaking on behalf of the government, outlined an amendment that places a duty on the Secretary of State to report to parliament on the progress of abstraction reform in England within five years of Royal Assent of the Bill. Although the government can’t commit to a timetable for introducing legislation, its aim is to bring forward the necessary legislation on abstraction reform early in the next parliament, he said.

On the subject of upstream competition, a number of concerns were expressed about the severe pressures that some catchment areas are currently experiencing. Lord Whitty argued for a cap on abstractions and for placing conditions or restrictions that are locally relevant to the catchment in question. A reformed abstraction regime needs to be put in place, he said, before upstream competition is introduced. A proposal to align the timetables for upstream competition and abstraction reform was put to the vote. Members voted 192 in favour and 271 against, so the proposal was not carried.

A second vote was held on the introduction of a National Affordability Scheme, intended to address the problem of growing water bills for low income families. Members voted 181 in favour of the scheme and 261 against, so the proposal was not carried.

The government is still consulting on its proposals for abstraction reform with the consultation closing this week, Friday the 28th March being the last day for submissions – see a previous news item “Defra launches consultation on abstraction reform”.

The next debate on the Bill will take place on the 31st March. For further information, see Parliament – Water Bill.

CIWEM Annual Conference – Water and Environment 2014

How to deliver sustainable solutions to water and environmental management

March 25th 2014

CIWEM is holding its annual conference next month at the Royal Geographic Society in Kensington, London. The conference will take place on the 8th and 9th of April and will include a number of keynote presentations on the practicalities of delivering sustainable solutions to water and environmental management. The many topics covered include climate change, flood risk management, managing our water resources, drought monitoring, catchment management, and sustainable drainage systems.

The speakers will include Lord Chris Smith from the Environment Agency, Cathryn Ross from Ofwat, Professor Peter Matthews from Natural Resources Wales, Roy Richardson from SEPA (the Scottish Environment Protection Agency), and a host of others from environmental organisations across the UK. A European dimension will also be provided, with speakers such as Jaap Flikweert speaking about “Nature Driven Design” and the example of transforming coastal beaches in the Netherlands, and Dieter Grau speaking on flood management in Copenhagen.

For further details, see the CIWEM website at CIWEM Annual Conference 2014.

Notes to Editors

CIWEM is the The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, an independent professional body whose aim is to advance the science and practice of water and environmental management for the public benefit.

Defra acts to improve water quality

Majority of UK’s open waters fail to reach healthy status, according to guidelines set by Water Framework Directive

March 24th 2014

Defra has recently updated its information on improving water quality. Under new standards laid down in the EC’s Water Framework Directive, only 27% of the UK’s open waters are classified as being of healthy status. Open waters, or “water bodies”, include rivers, streams, groundwater, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters.

Defra has formulated a set of actions which it is in the process of implementing to satisfy the conditions of the Water Framework Directive. Working in collaboration with the Environment Agency and a number of partners across the UK, these actions include:

  • protecting sensitive local areas such as bathing waters
  • the economic and efficient management of catchment areas
  • working with farmers to reduce agricultural pollution
  • controlling urban pollution
  • controlling chemical pollution
  • controlling and reducing pollutants from waste water, sludge and septic tanks

For more information on the Water Framework Directive, see EU – Water Framework Directive.