17 April 1997

Consultation on groundwater proposals a farce, says NFU…

THE governments consultation process on proposed groundwater pollution regulations has been branded a farce by the NFU.

And the union has also slated the predicted charges to producers, linked with the controls, as wildly disproportionate.

Michael Payne, NFU pollution consultant, said that under the UK interpretation of the EU groundwater directive, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions intended to impose site inspection and authorisation charges on producers disposing of spent agrochemicals.

In its response to the DETR consultation document on the proposals, the NFU has calculated the charges will amount to £300m to the agricultural industry in the first year, and £175m annually.

"Compare this with a total of only £40m a year for like charges imposed on industry as a whole, and the absurd and disproportionate scale of the agricultural charges becomes obvious," said Mr Payne.

At farm level these costs would account for 13.5% of the average lowland livestock producers income.

Other practical implications of the proposals have proved impossible to assess because the Environ-ment Agency – which will implement the DETRs final proposals – has refused to say how it intends will execute the proposals on farm.

"How can we be expected to consult meaningfully on the likely impact of a government proposal, when a key body like the Environment Agency actively abstains from all discussions. No one knows how the measures will be carried out in practice. Its farcical," said Mr Payne.

And he added that proposals do not define which chemicals are to be included. "For example, control of dairy parlour disinfectant disposal could come under the agencys remit. But this has not been clearly stated.

"But we cannot have an extension to the consultation period because the EU Commission is threatening to impose fines on the UK if it does not comply with the groundwater directive.

"So we must have a pilot scheme to assess the practical implications of this directive, and the costs have to be reduced to a sensible level which reflects the governments duty to ensure any such scheme is founded on appropriate costs," he said.

By Jonathan Riley