Plan to ease red tape on watercourses

The government says it plans to reduce red tape for farmers wishing to maintain their own watercourses.

Under the proposal, farmers would be allowed to undertake their own “low-risk” maintenance, such as de-silting watercourses.

The move follows widespread criticism that over-zealous rules have left farmers hamstrung when it comes to maintaining watercourses to prevent flooding.

DEFRA junior minister Richard Benyon revealed the plan to reduce bureaucracy in response to a parliamentary question from Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton.

Mr Benyon said: “We propose to use the Water Bill to bring the Environment Agency’s flood defence consents and land drainage byelaws within the Environmental Permitting framework.

This would reduce the administrative burden for farmers and landowners wishing to undertake designated low-risk activities, added Mr Benyon.

Activities such as de-silting watercourses could be eligible for standard rules permits or even exempt from needing a consent.

The proposal comes less than a fortnight after farmers blamed floods on a lack of watercourse maintenance by the Environment Agency.

Environment Agency’s Paul Leinster pledged to look at ways of reducing red tape following a heated NFU Council meeting with farmers at Stoneleigh.

Mr Leinster told the council meeting that he recognised farmers’ “emotion, frustration and anger” over the issue of flooding.

The agency would work with NFU members to reduce bureaucracy so farmers could maintain watercourses on their land, he pledged.

“In places where we have piloted this, we have got to a much better position to where we were before but I can see clearly from this room we need to do it on a much wider scale.”

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