Agenda item



Rob Bakewell and Iain Page, from the Environment Agency, gave a verbal update to Members.


Audio recording – 69 minutes 11 seconds


Rob Bakewell and Iain Page, from the Environment Agency, gave a verbal update to Members, including:


·         The Environment Agency is the regulator for England, primarily dealing with floods, but also look at waterways, air quality and other areas.

·         Concerns regarding population growth are not specific to North Herts and is replicated across the area covered in the East of England.

·         A primary piece of work of the Environment Agency was the Water Frame Directives, which aimed to get water bodies to good ecological status. This does not mean a constant water flow, but must meet certain environmental targets, for example with flora and fauna.

·         Anyone can be granted a licence to extract water and water companies have much larger licences. This was due to the distribution of licences prior to the existence of the Environment Agency where it was assumed people would always need water and large licences were handed out freely.

·         Growth is having an impact on the environment and this means targets are not being met.

·         River augmentation at Ivel Springs could provide a small amount of water when needed, but would not guarantee flow. It was important for local residents to get involved in consultations as this would help the Agency to understand when the augmentation was required. This would then be monitored to ensure it is working effectively. 

·         A new Water Source Management Plan was due in 2024 and the consultation will being on this shortly, with responses vital to ensure appropriate action to deal with the demands. It was expected that this new Plan would have more of an emphasis on the environment.

·         The augmentation scheme will not solve all the problems and the previously discussed long term fixes, such as water transfer and leakage reduction, would probably be required to see wider improvements.

·         The Environment Agency cannot have a say on actions, but do have an input in decision making and so local feedback was useful to pass onto the water companies.

·         There was an aim to reduce the licences in this area and, with support from the augmentation scheme, would help to meet the environmental targets set.

·         The development of new reservoirs would be explored by the Regional Planning Groups.

·         In the main chalk streams are included within the Water Framework Directive and this means that the Environment Agency is obliged to put forward schemes for the water companies that are affordable and Ofwat compliant.

·         The main concern today is what can be done to deal with the issues between now and the big schemes coming online.

·         East Anglia is water stressed and it would be required for planning authorities to build water reduction measures into developments to assist with mitigating the issues. 


The following Members asked questions:


·         Councillor Steve Jarvis

·         Councillor Michael Muir

·         Councillor Tom Tyson


In response to questions Rob Bakewell and Iain Page advised:


·         Regional, county and water boundaries do not match the situation of water on the ground, but when water management plans are put forward, suggestions will be made as an area and discussions will take place between organisations where the boundaries are crossed.

·         The regional planning process will look at transfers within and between areas. There were possibility of moving water from other parts of the country but would need to look at which option has the least regrets.

·         Regional plans should be multi-sector and working with other sectors, such as farming which has a high water usage, would help to improve the situation.

·         When moving water from elsewhere it is a case of who gets the water first, as lots of other areas require water resources.

·         It would probably not be possible to channel off flood water into a reservoir, as the quality of water would be low and the levels of sediment would be high causing damage to reservoirs. There was also an issue regarding reliability of flood waters and the industry would not be able to meet its required amount from this method.

·         It would be possible to look at capturing water at high flow, before it becomes a flood, to feed into supplies and store in reservoirs.

·         Many farmers now have winter storage reservoirs, where it is collected in winter and stored until used in summer.

·         Where floods have recently happened in the north of England, the regional planning groups would be thinking about capturing water at high flow.

·         Water is not required to be flowing during drought conditions, as these are seen as natural events, and the Environment Agency are not required to make rivers flow.

·         Sewage spills are dealt with by Environment Officer colleagues and they were unsure of the details in the instances in Baldock. This would probably be part of an ongoing enforcement action so it would not be possible to comment.

·         It was up to DEFRA comms team to decide when the information would become public, but could be via court action so that would then be public information. They would request that an update be provided for Members by colleagues.


The Chair thanked Iain and Rob for their presentation.