Implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) should have significant implications for and impacts on, a wide range of different stakeholders. Its focus is on River Basin level management (i.e. catchment management) and strict requirements to achieve and maintain good water quality status for all waters. It will require a programme of measures to achieve these objectives, which are as relevant to land use and land management as they are to water use and water management. Diffuse pollution, to be tackled for the first time under a legal regime, will need to address land use and involve catchment management. It would have been more appropriate to name the Directive as the Land and Water Framework Directive.

The WFD title has been misleading to some key players (i.e. Local Government and Planning Authorities), such that, although the Directive has been in force since Dec 2000, interest by bodies such as the Local Government Association and its members has only developed in the last 6 months. This followed the EFRA Select Committee Report early in 2003 and subsequent proactive communications with key stakeholders such as DEFRA, Environment Agency and other interested parties.

At the same time, a major review of the development control and land-use planning system has generated the new regime of Regional Spatial Strategies and Local Development Frameworks. Also at the same time, the new SEA Directive is coming into play, requiring environmental assessment at the strategic planning stage. These steps are all working towards delivery of sustainable development whereby environmental considerations are fully integrated into development control and planning at appropriate stages and scales.

Thus, in due course there will be two major statutory plans – the development plans and the River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) under the WFD. At this stage, the relationship between these two plans is not clear. The Regulations transposing the WFD into the legislation of England and Wales have not clarified which plan will predominate and which responsible Government department (at present ODPM and DEFRA) will have the final say. In both areas, a lot of power is vested in the hands of the Secretary of State.

Apart from the scientific, technical and management aspects of these plans, another important issue is that of public participation. The Aarhus Convention, directly via ratification or via new forthcoming EC Directives, will require public access to information, access to justice and participation in environmental decision making. Obligations similar to those under Aarhus have been incorporated in the WFD under Art.14. It is considered that these requirements go beyond the normal consultation currently undertaken by the main bodies responsible for implementation of the WFD, i.e. DEFRA and the Environment Agency. This will have major resource and accountability implications. On the other hand, the development control and planning regime has an established system of public involvement in decision making – involving professionals, democratically elected councillors and interested stakeholders, including the public.

While there is a clear inter-relationship between public health, environmental health , environmental protection, pollution control, development control and land-use planning, the legal and institutional framework which has evolved is not geared up to deliver the necessary holistic approach. The Environment Agency is regarded as having a primary role for environmental protection and pollution control, but a significant amount of environmental considerations are dealt with by Local Government authorities. With pollution control measures applied after the granting of planning permission, the environment is still being treated as an additional consideration or after-thought, rather than something that should be fully and properly considered alongside, and at the same time as, economic and social considerations.

For the WFD the devil lies in both the detail and the context. The detail equals the science (data and understanding) which will lead to the establishment of reference conditions and definition of good status for water bodies, which in turn will lead to determination of the necessary programme of measures, which will impact on both the environment and society (some members perhaps more than others). The context equals the legal and institutional framework, which must facilitate implementation, and deliver the objectives, of the WFD.

It is considered that the WFD and other current developments provide the drivers / opportunity for significant beneficial reform (rationalisation, simplification and integration) of planning and development control whereby the environment is properly and fully integrated into decision making via an effective and efficient regime. The risks of failing to take this opportunity go way beyond the narrow issue of infraction proceedings.

Dr Peter Howsam.

Cranfield University

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