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Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Bill Briefing
Communications | Water pages

Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Bill

This Bill was published just before the summer recess and will be considered by the Environment Committee in the autumn. The Bill sets out new arrangements for protecting the water environment, and changes how new connections to the public water and sewerage infrastructure are to be funded. This consultation briefing sets out the main provisions of the bill and some of UNISON Scotland's initial concerns to enable members in the industry to feed back views to their branches.

Part One - Protection of the Water Environment

  • Sets out the general purpose of protection of the water environment
  • Defines the water environment and sets out the duties of public authorities, including the Scottish Ministers and SEPA to protect it
  • Provides for the establishment of river basin districts - and their characterisation by SEPA (there is a minor reference to "economic analysis" - but not as strong as the economic characterisation requested by UNISON in our response to previous consultation).
  • Provides for the establishment of a register of protected areas and for Scottish Ministers by order must identify waters used for the abstraction of drinking water - SEPA to prepare and maintain the register.
  • Requires an environmental objective to be set for each body of water in a river basin district and that monitoring of the status of the water environment in each river basin district is carried out
  • Requires the preparation of river basin management plans for each river basin district
  • Describes the procedures for preparation, approval and review of these plans including the requirements for publicity and consultation - again with a key role for SEPA
  • Requires the creation of river basin district advisory groups and allows for the creation of sub-basin plans
  • Places a duty on public authorities including the Scottish Ministers to have regard to river basin management plans where relevant

Regulation of controlled activities (Section 20)

  • Enables provision to be made by regulations for or in connection with regulating any activity, and in connection with the fixing of charges for water services, for the purposes of protecting the water environment.

  • Enables provision to be made by regulations, for or in connection with remedial and restoration measures necessary for the purposes of achieving the environmental objectives.

  • All those with a polluting discharge or who abstract or impound water or who carry out engineering works near watercourses will be required to notify SEPA - SEPA will then decide if that activity needs to be controlled in order to satisfy the environmental objectives for the relevant water body

Water Use Licences

  • Water use licences give specific authorisation that allows a water user to carry on one or more of the controlled activities at a particular site.

  • Water Use Licences will be activity and site specific rather than person specific so that it will be simple to transfer them from one operator to another.
  • It will also be possible for SEPA to issue "single water use licences" - this would cover permissions for a number of different water uses at a particular site or for similar but related activities over a wider geographic area . The regulator will be able to include management agreements as agreed between different water uses in water use licences - such agreements will allow water users in a particular area to co-ordinate their activities to better protect the water environment and their own interests. It is envisaged the regulator would be involved at an early stage in the development of the terms of such agreements, once agreed and acceptable to SEPA they would become enforceable by virtue of their being incorporated into the water use licences for each party to the agreement.

  • SEPA will be able to develop nationally applicable standard licence conditions that could be appended to water use licences for particular types of activity.

Abstraction and Impoundment

  • Distinct from management agreements SEPA will draw up Water Resources Management Strategies to help them carry out the regulation and control of the abstraction and impoundment of water.
  • It is likely these strategies would be drawn up at sub-district scale.
  • Strategies would report on SEPA's assessment of the risk to the environment posed by abstractions and impoundments. They would also give an indication of the thresholds at which SEPA was likely to look to impose restrictions on abstractors and impounders.

Charging Schemes

  • The Bill will provide for regulators to recover the costs incurred by undertaking its functions in relation to the water environment by means of charging schemes, which will be applied at all, levels of control. Charging schemes will be subject to consultation and Ministerial approval.


  • Regulations will give SEPA the ability to undertake works to restore the environment themselves and in some cases to recover the costs from landowners or other responsible parties.
  • Regulations will also allow SEPA to serve notices on landowners or other responsible parties to require them to undertake restoration works themselves.

Call In

  • The Bill will allow Ministers to make provisions for call in as a part of the regulations establishing the control regimes.
  • The Executive will consult again on these issues in the course of drawing up the regulations.


  • The Directive requires the controls to be in place by the end of 2009 and operational by 2012.
  • The Executive believes a better option would be to phase in the controls earlier and over a longer time period. It intends to start implementation of the new controls from 2005 after the first characterisation report has been completed. However it says it will do this in a phased and controlled manner, but the controls will not become effective until 2012!
  • An exception to this is in cases where a particular pressure is having a serious and significant impact on the environment and was not adequately controlled by existing legislation.


Part Two Water and Sewerage Services

  • Amends Section 1 of the Sewerage (Scotland) Act 1968 and section 6 of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 to make further provision regarding Scottish Water's duty to provide water and sewerage services at reasonable cost.

  • Amends the duty of Scottish Water to provide sewerage "only provided it is practicable to do so at reasonable cost". The new Bill allows the Scottish Ministers to specify Scottish Water's duty to provide sewerage, and to determine regulations for setting out what is a "reasonable cost".

  • Allows an aggrieved person to appeal to Scottish Minister on the grounds that a determination of reasonable cost has not been made properly in accordance with regulations. Scottish Ministers will determine the issue following consultation with Scottish Water.

  • Scottish Water is not required to take pipes to a connection point for buildings where an agreement is in force between Scottish Water and another person for them to carry out this action.

  • Section 27 makes detailed provision on construction standards, connection agreements and take-over conditions. It specifies that an agreement by Scottish Water to take over a sewage treatment works is subject to the works complying with the new construction standards set out in the Bill, also to any conditions that Scottish Water has made under the Bill. It also provides that the take-over of a sewage treatment works should not take effect until any security required as part of an agreement under the Bill has been provided.

  • It also provides that an owner can only connect their drains or sewers to those of Scottish Water if they meet the required construction standards, and (if required by Scottish Water), the owner has entered into a connection agreement with Scottish water and has provided adequate security.

  • Section 14A relates to private sewers and sewage treatments works. It makes provision as to the construction standards that drains, private sewers and private sewage treatment works must meet. Scottish Ministers must consult Scottish Water and any other persons they consider appropriate before making any such regulations, and the regulations are to be made by statutory instrument, subject to negative procedure in the Scottish Parliament.

  • Section 14B provides for take-over conditions and taking over a sewage treatment works and for connection agreements and connecting drains or sewers. It also confers a regulation making power on the Scottish Ministers to prescribe conditions (and exceptions) which must be included in these agreements.

Laying of Water Mains by Persons other than Scottish Water

  • Section 28 provides for Scottish Water to authorise another person to lay a main and clarifies the arrangements for subsequently vesting the main. It provides a power for Scottish Water to authorise another person to lay a main where this involves road works or crossing a third party's land and transfers to the authorised person the requirements to give reasonable notice to interested parties and the procedure for responding to objections.

  • Where the main which is intended to vest in Scottish Water connects to a public main, such an agreement is only valid if the main meets the construction standards provided in the Bill.

  • Scottish Water can make a determination during the construction of the main, vesting the main and its management, maintenance and renewal instead in the person who has laid it and giving notice of this determination. Where a main is laid by a person other than for or on behalf of Scottish Water and the consequent main does not connect to another main which is vested in Scottish Water the Bill provides that it vests in the person who laid the main.

  • Scottish Water may enter into an agreement for any main to vest in Scottish Water. Such an agreement is only valid if the main meets the construction standards provided in the bill, and is subject to any conditions and security Scottish Water may require under the bill.

  • Scottish Ministers are to prescribe in regulations the construction standards which a main (not laid by or on behalf of Scottish Water) must meet for it to vest in Scottish Water. Scottish Ministers must consult Scottish Water and any other persons they consider appropriate. (Again no mention of consulting with the relevant Trade Unions).

  • "Vesting conditions" may be included in an agreement between Scottish Water and another person to allow a main to vest in Scottish Water. These conditions could include payments from Scottish Water to the person laying the main, and a liability on the person who laid the main for repairs etc. Scottish Ministers will have regulation making powers in relation to these vesting conditions.

  • Section 29 Clarifies that all waterworks constructed in accordance with section 21(1) and all water mains laid in accordance with section 23(1) are vested in Scottish Water.


Part 3

This is the technical part of the Bill, covering:

  • The Crown Application
  • Orders and regulations
  • Ancillary provision
  • Commencement and short title : Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2002.

UNISON's views

Part One

  • UNISON supported proposals to establish one River Basin District covering the whole of Scotland - with provisions to identify river basin districts by defining their geographical boundaries. This is delivered in the Bill.
  • UNISON wanted SEPA to have a lead role in river basin management planning, however we stressed the need for additional resources to fulfil this role. The financial impact on SEPA is mentioned briefly in the financial sections, but there should be more emphasis on implications for SEPA staff and resources.
  • There is no mention of Trade Union involvement in River Basin Management Plans. UNISON should look for a more specific comment of Trade Union roles.
  • UNISON welcomes the protection of the water environment, the provisions for robust monitoring, and detailed environmental characterisation of river basin districts. We would like to see more emphasis on the importance of economic characterisation of the water environment.
  • We welcome the provisions to make water use licences activity and site specific. However, the Bill does not seem to clarify processes for transferring licence arrangements. UNISON wants explicit commitments for operators to inform the regulator when a change of ownership occurs to help identify ownership and responsibility.
  • There is no mention in the Bill of time limits on licences. UNISON feels that it is at least important that Ministers will have the powers to require the regulator to review a licence in certain cases.
  • UNISON wanted the regulator to be able to impose conditions on a water use licence. However, the Bill has provisions for SEPA to develop nationally applicable standards licence conditions. We need assurances that this system will be robust enough.
  • The Bill is not explicit on the powers available to the regulators. UNISON would prefer to see clear and transparent guidelines set out on the powers of the regulators within the Bill.
  • UNISON hoped the Bill would set out a clear offence for those damaging the water environment etc.. Yet the Bill only gives powers to make regulations to issue various notices on persons. UNISON should consider if these proposals are clear and strong enough.
  • There is no mention in the Bill of an appeals system for those accused of committing an offence. In the interests of justice and fairness, UNISON would wish to see a clear system for appeals procedures.
  • UNISON supports the concept of "Call in", but we believe that it is important that "third party" is defined widely to cover all interests - not just developers. We note the Executive is to consult further on this issue.
  • UNISON supports the polluter pays principle, and we welcome further consultation on the issue of charging.
  • UNISON would wish to see the provisions of the Bill enacted as soon as possible. The proposals to allow business and other water users not to comply with the rules until 2012 seems extraordinary.
  • We feel that it is essential that "abstraction" is clearly defined. The Bill makes provision for SEPA to draw up strategies at a sub district scale. UNISON has doubts that strategies at this level are robust enough, and would prefer clearer, firmer across the board rules.
  • Again on impoundment UNISON would prefer the Bill to establish clearer, firmer rules, set out by SEPA as regulator.
  • UNISON supports the principles of thresholds, but notes that the issue of thresholds appear to be watered down in the Bill. UNISON would wish to see clearer and firmer rules on establishing and monitoring thresholds.

Part Two

  • Whilst this Bill does not establish full competition within the Scottish water industry, it does allow for private sector access to water and sewage systems. UNISON is concerned about the involvement of the private sector, and therefore is keen to ensure that the standards set out in the Bill are robust to protect consumers, public health, employees and the environment. UNISON has concerns that allowing the private sector access to water and sewage systems will encourage the break up of Scotland's integrated water industry.
  • UNISON welcomes the provisions in the Bill to set out clear construction standards to ensure the highest quality in water activity. The Scottish Executive should be required to consult with Scottish Water on these construction standards, and there should also be an obligation to consultation with trade unions working within the Water industry.
  • UNISON set out a range of concerns as regards technical standards and potential for contamination in our initial response to the Water Services Bill. We are anxious to ensure that the highest standards of water mains and sewage treatment works are established and maintained. We would wish to see firm commitments in the Bill that any person (other than Scottish Water) involved in water activity should be required to meet these high standards, and should be closely monitored in all of their water use activity, with clear and appropriate penalties for failure to meet standards specified in the Bill.
  • The role and powers of the regulator in upholding standards and monitoring should be set out clearly in the Bill, to ensure the highest standards are established, maintained and monitored. UNISON would also wish to see clarifications of the role of the Water Industry Commissioner and SEPA on this matter.
  • The Bill does not specify detail on the basis for charging for new entrants to the network. UNISON believes that new entrants must be charged the full economic cost of access to each part of the network, and in addition for performance bonds to underpin a system of penalty and compensation payments.
  • In our original response, UNISON called for safeguards to protect water arrangements for disadvantaged consumers. There is no mention of any safeguards in the Bill, and UNISON would look for guarantees on water provision standards, as well as the standards for water activity.

July 2002

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