13 November 1998

Water rules at high cost

By Jonathan Riley

ENVIRONMENT minister Michael Meacher has introduced new regulations to protect groundwater which could impose an initial cost of £266m on the industry.

The 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.

The regulations are based on the "polluter pays" principle and mean that farmers will have to ensure that Environment Agency officers have authorised the disposal of potential pollutants.

The exact costs are still out to consultation but the proposed charges are for a standard £537 a holding for authorisation by EA officers, with an annual charge of up to £871.50. This represents an initial cost of £266m to industry with an annual cost of £152m thereafter.

But pollution consultant to the NFU Michael Payne explained that representations during the consultation period had secured a proviso that should reduce costs.

That states that as long as under 5cu m of pollutant was disposed of a year, and no more than four disposals were carried out in any one year costs could be downgraded to £85 for authorisation and £100 for the annual charge.

Mr Payne added that the NFU would continue pressing the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions to reduce this cost further.

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.

He said that even down-graded costs still represented an extra cost at a time when the industry needed cost reductions.

"There is also a welfare implication. Sheep need to be protected against disease and there is now a cost pressure on producers to cut out some dipping," said Mr Thorley.