by Tim Isaac, Deputy Director, CLA East.
Date: 23 June 2012
A new farm reservoir can involve at least ten different bodies and organisations, each with a host of restrictions and requirements and a myriad of regulations.
These can be overcome, but farmers aiming to combat water shortages with their own stored supply need to plan ahead to ensure they follow the line of least resistance. This means taking into account matters which may seem far removed from the project.
The exceptionally dry conditions of the past two years have brought constant queries about reservoirs to the Country Land and Business Association’s (CLA) East office. Planning permission and whether or not it is needed, is the most frequently raised question, but the whole system is complex. Obtaining the necessary consents from the various bodies can take many months and involve considerable up-front costs.
It is possible that ministers, as part of their push for simplification (and with the evidence before them of underperforming crops) may move to free up matters. However, that will require joined-up thinking. Therefore, the CLA is talking to a wide range of officials to highlight the essential need for additional reservoir capacity and to discuss ways of reducing the number of obstacles. Lessening the requirement for extensive and disproportionate up-front information seems to be a common goal – a clear indication of the willingness to listen.
The new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), in force since 27 March 2012, also gives some hope. It provides farmers, local people and authorities with a more balanced, positive and creative framework within which to make decisions for new on-farm reservoirs as part of a farming business.
These new policies also recognize the importance of food production and water as benefits that people derive from land. A further requirement is for authorities to have a clear understanding of the business needs within the economy of their area.
However, this policy shift does not reduce the need for well-conceived projects that set out to minimise any potential problems from the outset.
One of the issues that must be addressed is the belief, outside the farming industry, that a reservoir is not the main objective – simply the end result of mineral extraction. Income from minerals may be forthcoming, especially on some of the lighter soils where water is most needed. But, in this situation, it is rarely anything more than a welcome contribution towards the higher construction costs incurred with artificial (as opposed to clay) linings.
In many locations, the removal of surplus soil can actually add extra cost to the exercise, but in any case, it is seldom the prime consideration. Nonetheless, largely unfounded fears can add frustrating delays and accelerate costs – they should be addressed at the beginning.
Siting and design can go a long way to overcoming opposition. While engineering will dictate the most appropriate site, the many ways in which a reservoir can ‘add value’ in the wider sense should be highlighted to both the authorities and the local community. They can perform valuable functions such as habitat creation, flood risk mitigation and landscape enhancement while helping to ensure sustainable water use and food production. But, to achieve this does require some thought.
For example, sites of scientific, environmental or archaeological value, areas near to housing and public rights of way should all be avoided.
While planning consent is required for many reservoirs, some can be constructed without the need for full permission; this is through the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. They have to be ‘reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture within the unit’ and must not involve the removal of minerals from the holding.
There are a number of other limitations - size, proximity to roads, etc - and the rights provided under the order do not obviate the need to obtain other consents where appropriate. For example, certain designations will have an effect, but the order is well worth considering so long as specialist advice is taken.
With the onset of more stringent enforcement regulations, doing something without planning permission when it is required is not an option worth considering. In any case, where a grant is being sought, proof of planning consent is likely to be a condition that has to be met for the aid to be released. Therefore, careful thought should be given to lead times in dovetailing grant and planning applications.
Planning apart, these are some of the current regulations which are easy to overlook and they are by no means exhaustive.
Abstraction Licences: It sounds obvious, but an increase in reservoir capacity is likely to involve a new licence or a variation to an existing one. Either way, agreement with the Environment Agency (EA) should be sought prior to construction.
Single Farm Payment (SFP) – Cross Compliance: In constructing a new reservoir, it could be possible to breach some of the conditions and requirements associated with cross-compliance. Many of these have their own statutory background so would be relevant even if SFP is not being claimed.
Habitats Directive: An offence could be committed if any operations associated with constructing the reservoir have an impact on any European protected species - bats, newts, etc. - and the necessary checks and licences have not been obtained.
Land Drainage Act: To carry out work in, over or adjacent to an ordinary watercourse, local authority and/or EA consent must be obtained. Written consent of the EA must be obtained to install anything which may affect the flow in a watercourse such as a dam, weir, headwall or culvert.
Felling Licences: If any trees need to be removed as part of construction, a felling licence may be required in addition to considerations under the Habitats Directive; consent is necessary for any tree protected by a specific designation such as a Tree Preservation Order (TPO).
Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations: Permission from Natural England will be required for reservoirs involving the movement of more than 10,000 cubic metres of earth or affecting two hectares of uncultivated or semi natural land.
Flood and Water Management Act 2010: This Act introduced powers to change the threshold for raised reservoirs from 25,000 cubic metres down to 10,000. This change has not yet been introduced, but all reservoirs are likely to be subject to a more thorough risk assessment and stricter requirements, including more inspections by panel engineers, regardless of size.