Farmers say there is ‘no justification’ to stop compensation for lost water licences

Farm fields being irrigated in Breckland. Picture: Ian Burt

Farm fields being irrigated in Breckland. Picture: Ian Burt

Rural business leaders in East Anglia have told the government there is “no justification” for ending compensation for farmers affected by changes to water abstraction licences.

The CLA (Country Land and Business Association) has responded to Defra’s consultation on “improving the management of water in the environment”.

It says any variation of licences to abstract water should be used as a “last resort” with water companies first encouraged to reduce leakages, consumers pushed to be more efficient, and farmers urged to trade water and invest in winter storage facilities.

CLA East regional director Ben Underwood said: “While we wouldn’t condone unsustainable abstraction of water by any means, and support the collaborative efforts to address the problems, it is simply wrong for the government to propose revoking licences without proper redress.

“Many of these licences have been in place for decades, form a vital part of many businesses’ asset base and it is only fair that they should generate full compensation for commercial losses if taken away.”

The CLA also highlights concerns over the importance of fresh water to efficient crop and livestock production and says while water use is complex and with many end-users and stakeholders, Defra should classify water for food production as an “essential use”.

The National Farmers’ Union’s response to the consultation says the government is already shifting its approach to strategic water planning, and the NFU supports the general principle of regional and multi-sector water planning, because it “gives agriculture a seat at the table for the first time”.

“However we are concerned that it will shift the lead role in managing water from regulator to water company and could potentially erode transparency,” it says. “We believe that government must direct water companies to take account of farmers’ needs in these plans so that we have our fair share of water to grow food.

“On the other hand, the NFU is strongly opposed to Defra proposals for significant regulatory changes that, if implemented, could have a major impact on abstraction licences used to grow our food.

“Defra wants to give the Environment Agency increased powers so that it could vary or revoke abstraction rights without having to offer compensation to licence holders.

“Changing the regulations to make the process of licence change easier is an attractive option for government in attempting to meet environmental targets, but in adopting such a blanket approach it risks damaging the importance of balancing economic and environmental impacts - a balance which is vitally important for NFU members.”

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