The Future of Scotland’s Waters: Proposals for Legislation details the Executive’s proposals for the water environment section of the forthcoming Water Environment and Water Services Bill, which is set to transpose the EU Water Framework Directive into Scottish legislation.

This paper is a development of a previous consultation document, Rivers, Lochs, Coasts: The Future for Scotland’s Waters, which was issued last June, and incorporates suggestions made during the consultation period for that paper.

The two key elements of the Water Framework Directive that the paper seeks to address are the requirement for a new management system based around natural catchments and the requirement to control all impacts on the water environment to ensure ‘good status’ for most waters by a specified deadline.

The paper also predicts that there will need to be a ‘fair amount’ of secondary legislation flowing from the Bill once it is enacted, but that some of the Directive’s proposals are already mirrored in existing Scottish legislation and will not require additional laws.

A crucial aspect of the putative river basin management planning system is a proposed spatial analysis of all human impacts on the water environment that recognises the interconnections between all of the elements of the water cycle – surface and groundwaters as well as coastal and estuarine waters.

The paper notes: “River basin planning will help to drive forward the Executive’s sustainable agenda because it will integrate environmental priorities with social and economic implications.” The aim is to provide the “best possible balance” between protecting the water environment and the prosperity and quality of life of the people who depend on it, it adds.

However, despite the fact that Scotland has 337 river basins of over 25 square kilometres, the new paper proposes to set up just one strategic planning unit, or river basin district, covering the whole country apart from cross-border catchments. This contrasts strongly with England and Wales, where the ten existing water service companies were set up based on natural river basin catchments. The Scottish proposal dilutes the original suggestion in last year’s consultation that there should be three districts (see related story) – the new paper claims consultation suggested there was little extra value at this scale in having three units rather than one.

Despite this assertion, the Bill itself will not specify the number of districts. It will instead contain provisions to give ministers powers to introduce regulations to identify river basins by defining their geographical boundaries. Additional Westminster legislation will be needed to establish river basin management in cross-border catchments.

River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) will provide the strategic planning for river basins, and will detail the impacts on waters. The proposed Bill will not specify their format, which it is anticipated will be detailed in secondary legislation. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is confirmed as the lead authority in river basin management planning, as suggested in last year’s paper. In line with the Executive’s emphasis on sustainability, SEPA will be given a broader duty to have regard to economic and social considerations, strengthening its existing duties under the 1995 Environment Act.

The Executive also indicated that RBMPs will need to be integrated into other relevant plans and policies such as national parks planning, coastal zone policies and development planning. This will mean in future that new developments will require both planning permission and water use licences, if they affect the water environment.

SEPA will also be given the duty of setting up a network of consultative fora, which will express views on the content and implementation of the RBMPs. It is likely that three will be set up, based on the major river catchments of the Clyde, Forth and Tay.

“This paper proposes a blueprint for securing the sustainable management of our rivers, lochs and coasts for the long term benefit of future generations of Scots,” said Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development Allan Wilson at the launch of the consultation.

“Our approach is to ensure that, for the first time, Scotland’s waters are managed on the basis of natural river basins or catchments. It will also ensure that we are able to control all activities that have a harmful impact on the water environment, from source to sea,” he said. “It will do so in a way that involves, balances and takes account of all interests, both large and small. To get the Bill right we need the views of everyone with an interest in the water environment.”

The document will be out for consultation for two months. Responses are due by 5 April.

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