UK needs a coherent strategy to tackle the problem of water scarcity, says Water UK

Water scarcity is a problem now, says Chief Executive

“We urgently need more reservoirs and places to store rainwater”

April 18th 2014

With the prospect of a general election looming closer, the Local Government Association has asked a number of organisations what commitments they would like a future government to make in the first 100 days of office. One such organisation is Water UK, the body that represents the UK water industry.

Pamela Taylor, Chief Executive of Water UK, responded by saying that the UK’s future infrastructure will be reliant on water and sewerage services and the consequence is that these services need to be more integral in setting the future of the UK’s infrastructure. Water scarcity is a problem now, she said, and will be an even bigger problem in the nest 25 years given all the predictions about population growth:

“We do not have enough places to catch the rainwater before we treat it and provide the very best quality drinking water. We urgently need more reservoirs and places to store rainwater and we have to start work immediately on a more coherent, and perhaps braver national planning strategy.”

She also said that the water industry needs better data from government departments in order to help people struggling with their bills and to help tackle the problem of bad debt.

For further information, see the 100 days website at “Water UK”.

Photograph:

Creative Commons Licence
Claerwen Reservoir, Mid Wales © Copyright Anthony Bloor and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Planning Court now operational

The government’s new Planning Court makes its first deliberations this month

April 17th 2014

The Planning Court came into being on the 6th of April, with the responsibility for handling certain cases of judicial review. These include applications to the High Court to challenge the validity of various planning decisions, such as planning permissions and other development consents. One of its first deliberations has been the recent case of a legal challenge to the proposed Grantham relief road (see below).

The legislation that defines the scope of the new court is Statutory Instrument 2014/610. The instrument applies to England and Wales, but not to Scotland or Northern Ireland. S.I. 2014/610 is an amendment to the Civil Procedure Rules which, whilst retaining the existing procedures for judicial review, sets out a much tighter timetable for handling cases. The explanatory memorandum to the legislation states: “The policy objective of creating the Planning Court is to ensure that planning cases, including those with the potential impacts on economic growth and recovery, are resolved more quickly and efficiently.”

The expedition of judicial review with regard to planning cases was initiated last summer, when a specialist Planning Liaison Judge was nominated to review such cases and to ensure “that all major infrastructure cases are heard by a specialist High Court Judge.” Following a consultation on whether to continue with a “fast track” system in the High Court or to set up a separate Planning Court, the decision was made to pursue the second option.

Many lawyers have drawn attention to the apparent haste with which the legislation was written, pointing to a sub-clause that makes neither grammatical nor legal sense. This is the final sub-clause in the list of categories which the Court will handle. It states: “any other matter the judge appointed under rule 54.22(2).”

In an article on the Local Government Lawyer website, Richard Harwood OBE QC has also pointed out the anomaly that, whilst the list of categories includes European Union environmental legislation, the Court does not automatically have jurisdiction over purely domestic environmental law. On this point, he concludes: “So a challenge to an environmental permit for a waste or Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control installation which falls in part under European law is within the remit, but a purely domestic environmental permit matter is not.”

In one of the first cases to be heard by the Planning Court, a judge has dismissed a challenge to planning consent for a relief road in Grantham. A landowner had argued that the environmental impact of the proposed road should have been assessed together with plans for an urban extension scheme comprising up to 4,000 homes. The judge refused to grant permission for a full hearing of the claim on the grounds that the two schemes were separate for environmental impact assessment purposes.

Announcing the introduction of the new court in February, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said that the Planning Court will allow an estimated 400 planning cases a year to be fast-tracked for hearings, with the intention of reducing “unnecessary and costly delays.”

Notes

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announces the Planning Court: “New planning court gets go ahead to support UK growth – Press releases – GOV.UK”.

The relevant legislation is Statutory Instrument S.I. 2014/610, available as a PDF download from “The Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 3) Rules 2014 – S.I. 610”.

The explanatory memorandum to the legislation is also available as a PDF download from “The Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 3) Rules 2014 – S.I. 610 Explanatory Memorandum”.

For a detailed analysis of the legal aspects, see Richard Harwood’s article of the 2nd April via the Analysis tab on the Local Government Lawyer website at “Local Government Lawyer”.

For details of the Grantham relief road case, see the Planning Resource website at “Planning court dismisses legal challenge over Grantham relief road | Planning Resource”.

Groundwater Contamination from Nuclear Waste Products – New Research

Scientists in the USA find evidence that iron-bearing minerals naturally abundant in some sediments can reduce contaminant levels

April 16th 2014

Scientists from two laboratories in the USA have been doing research into groundwater contamination caused by the release of certain kinds of waste products associated with nuclear reprocessing. The research was carried out at several locations at a site in the state of Washington, which during the Cold War era produced two-thirds of the plutonium generated in the USA for nuclear weapon manufacture. The scientists, working in collaboration with other research facilities, conducted X-ray studies and other research on sediments recovered from the site.

In the USA, waste products associated with nuclear reprocessing have been stored in underground tanks and ponds, and it has long been a concern that contaminants such as uranium, plutonium and technetium have leaked from these storage tanks into the underlying sediments and groundwater. How to address this problem has taken up much time and effort on the part of scientists and environmentalists, but the latest discoveries have provided some positive news.

The research has found evidence that iron-bearing minerals naturally abundant in some sediments can react with and ultimately immobilize contaminants such as technetium. Sediments at the research site contain iron-rich minerals that are magnetic and are derived from igneous rocks such as basalt. Some of these minerals are iron oxides containing a reduced form of iron, known as ferrous iron, which can potentially transfer its extra electron to contaminants, thereby stabilising them in an insoluble form in sediments, and reducing the risk of groundwater contamination.

This research, which was published recently in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, can be used to predict timescales for the reduction of contaminant levels by reactions occurring naturally with the sediments themselves. The research will also be important for assessing the ability of these natural processes to reduce the risk of contaminant migration and groundwater contamination.

For a more detailed account of this research, see the PHYS.ORG website at “Iron-bearing minerals in sediments naturally reduce contaminant levels”. The original article can be found here.

Winter Floods – UK Government updates its response

Government announces further flood recovery schemes to assist communities and businesses

April 15th 2014

The government has issued an update on its response to the winter floods. The update has been issued jointly by Defra, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Transport, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Highways Agency, the Environment Agency, the Met Office and the Prime Minister’s Office.

The press statement, issued on the 11th April 2014, states that £14m has already been paid to help communities to recover and to protect lives and properties in the future, with a further £185.5m due to be paid to local authorities by the end of March. A number of schemes have been announced, in addition to the Repair and Renew grants of £5,000 available for affected businesses and home-owners (see our news item “Flood Risk and Flood Damage – New Guidance”. The government has allocated £10m to a “Farming Flood Recovery Fund” which will provide similar grants (up to £5,000) to help farmers bring flooded land back into production, whilst £10m has been allocated to a “Business Support Scheme” to assist affected businesses with their recovery plans.

With regard to infrastructure, the government has set aside a total of £86.5m for a “Severe Weather Recovery Scheme”, which will assist repairs to damaged roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Further schemes include a support fund of £2m for coastal tourism businesses, a contingency fund for local authorities known as the “Enhanced Bellwin Scheme”, business rate relief of an estimated £9m, and a Council Tax Discount Scheme of £6m to enable local authorities to provide Council Tax discounts to affected households.

On the latter, Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis has announced that “the government will extend the Council Tax discount to all flood victims for as long as they are unable to return to their homes.” The government’s initial plan, announced in February, was to allocate £4m to the discount scheme with the aim of providing a discount for three months to affected households. A further £2m has been set aside, and the discount extended to cover the whole period of being unable to return to affected homes.

The government calculates that over 7,800 homes and almost 3,000 commercial properties were flooded as a result of the wettest winter on record.

For further information on the schemes, including details of how to apply, see “UK floods 2014: government response and recovery – News stories – GOV.UK”.

Acknowledgement

Photo: Burrowbridge, Somerset © Copyright Mike Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. “Following prolonged rainfall in January 2014, the Somerset Levels were flooded, apart from small areas of higher land.”

DECC launches domestic Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme

Domestic RHI scheme offers incentives to install renewable heating systems such as ground source energy systems and solar panels

April 14th 2014

The Department for Energy and Climate Change has recently announced the opening of its new domestic RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) Scheme. The scheme commenced on the 9th April 2014 and offers incentives to encourage home-owners and private or social landlords to install renewable heating systems. DECC states that new build properties will not be eligible, but there will be an exemption for self-build properties. DECC also states that the domestic RHI scheme is targeted at homes that are not on the main gas grid as these have the most potential to save on fuel bills and decrease carbon emissions, though other properties will also be eligible.

The incentive takes the form of quarterly payments to property owners, payable over a period of seven years, and intended to offset the installation costs. The tariffs vary according to the technology used, and have been set at a level that reflects the expected cost of renewable heat generation over a period of twenty years.

For air-source heat pumps, the tariff is 7.3p per kWh. For ground source heat pumps, the tariff is 18.8p per kWh. Biomass heating systems have a tariff of 12.2p per kWh whilst solar thermal panels have a tariff of 19.2p per kWh. Additional payments can be received through the combined use of solar; otherwise the scheme is limited to one incentive per home.

DECC has also announced changes to the non-domestic RHI scheme following three consultations last year. The changes include new support for air to water heat pumps and systems that convert waste to energy. The changes also include an increase in support for ground source heat pumps and changes to the various tariffs. DECC calculates that the changes could provide an incentive for approximately 5,000 non-domestic installations. The regulations that would enable the changes to become law were presented to parliament on the 9th April and, subject to parliamentary approval, are expected to come into force later in the spring.

For further information on the RHI schemes, including details of how to apply, see the government website at “Renewable Heat Incentive – Increasing the use of low-carbon technologies”.

Monitoring river flow to improve flood risk forecasting

CEH launches national peak flow data service with data provided by the UK’s hydrometric measuring authorities

April 13th 2014

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has launched a new data service this month which will replace the HiFlows-UK initiative hosted by the Environment Agency. The new service has been transferred to the National River Flow Archive.

The National River Flow Archive is maintained by the CEH, working in partnership with the Environment Agency in England, Natural Resources Wales, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Rivers Agency in Northern Ireland. These organisations operate an extensive network of gauging stations that provide the data for the Archive and will provide the data for the new peak flow service.

The Archive has provided a service for daily and monthly mean flow data for the last thirty years and the provision of flood peak data will be integrated with the existing service. The Head of the Archive, Jamie Hannaford, said that the transfer of the service “will provide users with an integrated service, allowing integrated access to a wider range of river flow data, including daily flow time series, peak flood levels and catchment information from one single national portal.”

The new data service can be accessed via the CEH website at “NRFA National River Flow Archive”.

Photograph:

Creative Commons Licence
River Lugg © Copyright Anthony Bloor and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Defra publishes report – Reforming Environmental Guidance

Defra’s reforms will save business £185m a year, says report

April 12th 2014

Defra has published a report that outlines its progress in implementing the Red Tape Challenge. The Red Tape Challenge was announced by the Prime Minister in April 2011 and heralded moves to reduce regulatory guidance and make it easier for business to operate. On its website, the department says it has reviewed 1,200 regulations since that announcement and that regulatory guidance will be reduced by 80% as part of its reforms. 350 obsolete regulations will be removed, whilst 428 regulations are subject to 336 reform proposals, “mainly through simplification or consolidation.”

In its report, Defra says that 20% of those 336 proposals have been implemented and it predicts that business will save approximately £185m a year as a result. The report also says that £132m of those savings will come about as a result of the reforms to the statutory guidance on contaminated land. Those reforms, says the report, “will avoid costly unnecessary remediation operations and focus attention on high risk sites, potentially saving business an estimated £132m a year.”

However, Brownfield Briefing has argued that whilst there has been a sharp fall in spending on contaminated land remediation, the vast majority is due to the recession and to changes in planning guidance which has shifted development from brownfield to greenfield land. Brownfield Briefing also points out that many in the industry disagree that the new guidance is clearer and that uncertainty still shrouds the use of the Category 4 Screening Levels which cover just six contaminants.

Meanwhile, on Defra’s “Smarter Guidance” website, the department says that “a thorough review of guidance and information obligations under the banner of the Smarter Environmental Regulation Review concluded that they are important for supporting regulation but have become more costly and complex than they need to be.” The department is inviting users to comment on how guidance and information obligations reporting can be improved. To see a list of the topics to be covered, click here.

Notes to Editors

Defra announces its report: “Defra better for business: strategic reform plan for Defra’s regulations – Publications – GOV.UK”.

Published on the 9th April 2014, Defra’s report is available as a PDF here: “Defra better for business: A Strategic Reform Plan for Defra’s Regulation”.

Defra’s “Smarter Environmental Regulation Review” is available here: “Smarter Environmental Regulation Review: Phase 1 report – guidance and information obligations – Publications – GOV.UK”.

Defra’s “Smarter Guidance” website: “Smarter Guidance and Data | Give us your views”.

Brownfield Briefing’s comments on the report are here: “DEFRA’s big savings claims | Brownfield Briefing”.