Michael Gove told: Loss of water licences would ‘destroy’ Norfolk farms
PUBLISHED: 13:13 19 February 2019 | UPDATED: 15:48 19 February 2019
Norfolk farm businesses would be “destroyed” by the potential loss of 21 water abstraction licences in the Broads, a government minister has been warned.
The Environment Agency’s review of irrigation licences in the catchment of the rivers Ant, Bure and Thurne was raised at the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) national conference in Birmingham following a speech by environment secretary Michael Gove.
Hoveton farmer Nick Deane, who will formally accept the role of Norfolk NFU chairman at the conference tomorrow, asked the minister why farmers at risk of losing their water resource were being treated unfairly compared to Anglian Water.
“There are proposals to revoke 21 abstraction licences within the next few weeks,” he said. “This will destroy some farming businesses, the local economy, and severely impact on national food processors.
“Does the minister think it is fair that the local water company is being given several years to adjust to the change, but farmers are being told they will lose their water this year, with no time to find new sources of water?”
Mr Gove agreed to raise the question with Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan during his meeting with him on Thursday, and respond in writing to Mr Deane “hopefully next week”.
“I was not aware there was an inequity in the treatment of the water company and of farmers,” he said. “Particularly in an environmentally sensitive area like the Broads, we do need to be thoughtful. But one of the ways we can be thoughtful is not by applying inequitable treatment to hard-pressed farmers and the water company.
“I will discuss this with Sir James and write back to you hopefully next week with a better understanding and, I hope, some reassurance.”
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NFU president Minette Batters also outlined the scale of the potential problems looming for abstractors and irrigators in the Broads.
“This will have a seismic impact on an unbelievable scale to some really phenomenal businesses,” she said. “I can think of a couple of soft fruit businesses that are probably going to be put out of business, it is that bad.”