16 January 1998

Polluter pays rules are inappropriate, say industry chiefs

By Jonathan Riley

PROPOSED groundwater rules, which could cost the agricultural sector up to £266m next year, have been dismissed by industry leaders as totally inappropriate.

The proposals, launched for consultation this week by the Department of the Environment, transport and the regions, are based on the "polluter pays" principle.

Although the first-year costs will be the highest, Stuart Hogg, head of water quality at the DETR, said annual charges thereafter could be as high as £152m.

The draft regulations, which are the governments interpretation of the EU commissions groundwater directive, will create a new offence covering the disposal on land of certain agricultural products which might cause groundwater pollution, such as sheep dips and waste agrochemicals.

Farmers will have to ensure prior investigations have been carried out, and authorisation must be granted before they can dispose of potential pollutants. "Proposed charges for authorisation will be a standard £537 a holding, with an annual charge of up to £871.50," Mr Hogg said.

That means the initial bill facing sheep farmers could be up to £46m, with a subsequent yearly charge of £26m. UK agriculture as a whole could face an initial cost of £265m and an annual charge of £152m.

Mr Hogg said that, ideally, producers would use an authorised waste disposal service to remove spent dips and waste pesticides.

Environment minister, Michael Meacher, said groundwater would be given added protection if the new rules became law. "These proposals are based firmly on the polluter pays principle and are designed to prevent careless disposal of substances which could pollute groundwater," he said.

But National Sheep Association chief executive, John Thorley, said the proposals had nothing to do with the polluter pays, because they imposed costs on producers who were not polluting anything.

"For an industry which has worked so hard to meet its environmental responsibilities and taken a hell of a hammering through government action or inaction, these proposed charges make no sense at all," said Mr Thorley.

And Roger Cook, director of animal health companies trade body NOAH, branded the proposed charges as totally inappropriate and questioned if the Environment Agency was trying to end sheep dipping. &#42