A public inquiry commenced today into the Environment Agency’s proposed changes to three sets of surface water and groundwater abstraction licences at the River Test, River Itchen and Candover Stream in Hampshire. The Test and Itchen licences are held by Southern Water for the purpose of public water supply. The Candover licence is held by the Agency but Southern Water wish to use it for augmenting water in the Itchen in times of drought.
The Agency’s proposals are on the ground that more restrictive conditions are necessary in order to achieve compliance with the Habitats Directive and Water Framework Directive.
Shortly before the pre-inquiry meeting in November 2017, Southern Water announced that it no longer contested the proposals for the Test and Itchen subject to the imposition of special conditions allowing increased abstraction 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 is 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.
The inquiry was due to last 3 weeks but at the opening the parties announced that agreement in principle had been reached between Southern Water and the Environment Agency pursuant to which Southern Water would withdraw its remaining objections and a water resource management scheme would be entered into by the parties pursuant to s.20 of the 1991 Act which would set out the process by which Southern Water will be able to ensure that it is ‘application ready’ to make an application for a drought permit order and by which such an application will be made and considered. The inquiry will now hear representations from Fish Legal and other third parties once they have had the opportunity to consider the proposed arrangements.
Charles Banner and Alistair Mills appear for the Environment Agency.