This was a three-week inquiry into two appeals by Mr Andrew Alston under s.43 of the Water Resources Act 1991 regarding the Environment Agency’s refusal to renew his two licences to abstract water in order to irrigate salad and potato crops on his land at Catfield, Norfolk. The licences were refused on the basis that the Environment Agency could not rule out the risk that continued abstraction would harm the integrity of the Broads Special Area of Conservation and Broadlands Special Protection Area, which are protected under the Habitats Directive and Regulations, in particular due to alleged impact on the chemistry at Catfield Fen and consequent changes to its vegetation.
Mr Alston contended in his appeals that it was clear beyond reasonable scientific doubt that continued abstraction will not adversely affect the integrity of the SAC and SPA, and alternatively that there were imperative reasons of overriding public interest justifying a short-term renewal of his licences until March 2018 whereupon the future of the much larger Anglian Water abstraction in the vicinity would be known.
The issues in the inquiry included complex technical evidence on the hydrology and ecology of Catfield Fen as well as legal argument over the proper interpretation of the Habitats Directive.
Charles Banner appeared as sole counsel for the appellant, Mr Alston (instructed by Birketts LLP).