By Robert Davies

FARMERS who abstract water from British Waterways canals face massively increased charges.

As existing contracts end abstractors are being offered new deals that almost treble standing charges over five years. Volumetric charges on metered water will also rise steeply.

One West Midlands potato grower currently paying a standing charge of just under £3300 a year and £90/1000m3 of water has been asked to pay a standing charge of over £8500 in the first year of a new contract.

This would rise in stages to £10,300 in year five. The cost of 1000m3 of water would also increase to £128 next year.

From year two, both suggested charges would also be adjusted in line with inflation and British Waterways wants to impose a one-off charge of £500 as “a contribution to legal and administrative expenses”.

“Without water from the Shropshire Union canal we would have to seriously consider giving up growing potatoes, but these increases in the cost of irrigation water would mean the crop was no longer viable anyway,” the grower said.

John Taylor, British Waterways water development manager, said the proposed charges were considered reasonable, but were a starting point for negotiation.

“We have allowed plenty of time for discussion about new contracts to run from April,” said Mr Taylor.

“Some farmers have already agreed the substantial uplift in charges needed to cover the increased cost of meeting Environmental Agency regulations.

“We have already been prosecuted twice because of abstractors misdemeanours and need to take on additional staff.”

He thought the £500 legal and administrative charge was modest, but was prepared to consider allowing farmers to pay the actual costs of drafting their new contracts.

Mr Taylor added that no appeal procedure was in place where agreement could not be reached.

A spokesman for the NFU, which is handling a growing number of complaints from members, said the legal framework was being looked at and a meeting with the British Waterways board was being sought.