This was a public inquiry 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 were held by Southern Water for the purpose of public water supply. The Candover licence was held by the Agency but Southern Water wished to use it for augmenting water in the Itchen in times of drought.
The Agency’s proposals were made 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 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.
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 proceeded to hear representations from Fish Legal and other third parties on the proposed arrangements.
Charles Banner and Alistair Mills appeared for the Environment Agency.