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Clause 90 - Byelaws relating to land drainage

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 5th July 2005.

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Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 153 and 154.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

As the amendments make minor technical revisions to the clause, it might be helpful to set out briefly what the clause is designed to do. The clause allows for the Environment Agency, local authorities and internal drainage boards to take account of the environmental effect of land drainage works when making byelaws or taking a decision under those byelaws. The effect of the existing words in the byelaw-making power has been to prevent drainage bodies from taking account of the environment—in many cases obliging them to take decisions that might adversely affect environmental objectives.

A number of byelaws require those wanting to carry out various types of work, such as dredging or work on banks, to obtain the approval of the drainage body first. The drainage body may add conditions to that consent. However, the phrase

''necessary for securing the efficient working of the drainage system'' is considered to mean that an operating authority cannot refuse consent under the byelaws solely on conservation grounds, or add conditions with the aim of minimising environmental impact.

One key example cited by the Environment Agency is the extraction of gravel. In the majority of cases, the extraction of gravel has no effect on flood defence interests, so the agency cannot refuse consent; neither can it take enforcement action against those who extract without consent, because drainage is generally improved. However, the extraction of gravel has been cited as damaging to bird species and aquatic life, and detrimentally damaging to river ecology and geomorphology. A change in the byelaw provision will allow operating authorities to place conditions on such work, thereby reducing the damaging effects.

These three minor amendments to clause 90 are technical amendments to deal with what appears to be an oversight in the Water Resources Act 1991, in that the definition of drainage in section 113 of that Act does not apply to schedule 25, which is amended by clause 90. The amendments therefore apply the definition of drainage in the Act to the byelaws provisions in paragraph 5(5) of schedule 25.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 153, in clause 90, page 37, line 11, leave out from 'system' to 'on' in line 12.

No. 154, in clause 90, page 37, line 12, at end insert—

'( ) In paragraph 5(5) of that Schedule, after ''banks'', insert '', drainage''.'.—[Mr. Knight.]

Clause 90, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.