Inquiry closes into proposed restriction of Southern Water’s abstraction licences on the Rivers Test and Itchen

March 29, 2018

A public inquiry recently concluded into the Environment Agency’s proposed changes to three sets of abstraction licences at the River Test, River Itchen and Candover Stream in Hampshire.

Southern Water wished to abstract from these sources for the purpose of maintaining public water supply and augmenting water supply in times of drought. The Agency’s proposals were that more restrictive conditions were necessary in order to achieve compliance with the Habitats Directive and Water Framework Directive.

A number of third parties were also involved at the Public Inquiry including Fish Legal who sought to ensure that the environmental protections built into the licences went further than that proposed by the Environment Agency particularly in respect of the River Test which is home to some important and unusual salmon runs.

The issues for determination at the Inquiry were the extent to which abstraction could be increased from the rivers during drought conditions on ground of imperative reasons of overriding public interest pursuant to Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive. The Environment Agency’s position was that the appropriate means of dealing with drought conditions is through the drought order and drought permit regime under Part II, Chapter III of the Water Resources Act 1991.

Although scheduled to last three weeks, shortly before the opening of the Inquiry the main parties announced that agreement in principle had been reached and a water resource management scheme would be entered into by the parties pursuant to s.20 of the 1991 Act. Fish Legal and other third parties considered the proposed arrangements and negotiated a successful outcome with Southern Water and the Environment Agency which ensured that during times of particularly vulnerability for salmon, Southern Water would be restricted from abstracting large volumes of water from the rivers and vulnerable salmon would be protected. A decision from the Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State is expected in due course.

Nicholas Ostrowski acted for Fish Legal.