10 November 1995

Environment minister asked to postpone NVZ designations

By Liz Mason

LANDOWNERS are to ask environment minister John Gummer to postpone nitrate vulnerable zone designations.

The call, from the Country Landowners Association, follows a report from the independent NVZ review panel. Its three members considered 87 complaints relating to 29 of the 72 planned zones. Their report recommends boundary changes to just seven NVZ zones and the withdrawal of two others.

Dr Alan Woods, CLA water policy adviser, said the CLA would be asking for all NVZ designations to be put back pending the first NVZ review due by Dec 1997.

Dr Woods said the panel had made some "helpful comments" about nitrate sampling methods. The CLA wants future sampling to reflect the panels advice and it will ask government not to designate any NVZs until it has the results.

The NFU is still considering its formal response to the report. But NFU pollution consultant Michael Payne said it was disappointing that relatively few objections were sustained.

The panel set a high standard of proof and also interpreted its remit very narrowly so a number of objections were not dealt with. Many of the objectors pointed out that non-agricultural sources, including sewage effluent, landfill sites and atmospheric deposition contributed to nitrate pollution.

But the panel decided "it is sufficient for the designation of an NVZ that agricultural sources have made a significant contribution to the failure of the 50mg/litre test".

Its report also said it was not unreasonable for government to conclude that agriculture was a significant cause of nitrate pollution in rural areas.

Mr Payne said the panels finding was surprising and contrary to statements by government ministers. "There were letters from ministers saying they did not intend to designate except in the clearest cases of agricultural pollution.

"And where there is a reasonable suspicion that it was non-agricultural sources, determining whether the standard is exceeded, then that reasonable suspicion would be sufficient not to designate."

The panel recognised that the governments policy or approach on this issue "has not been entirely clear or consistent". But it claims its own interpretation is consistent with the spirit and purpose of the EC nitrate directive. &#42