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UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive Environment Group Consultation on the Future for Scotland's Waters - Proposals for Legislation (Paper 2002/4)

April 2002

Executive Summary

UNISON supports a more open and accountable approach to Scotland's waters, monitoring activities and promoting sustainable water use through specific control measures. We recognise the importance of safeguarding the water environment and welcome measures in this consultation paper which aim to do this.

We believe it is essential that there are systems and safeguards for controlling water abstraction and impoundment, and we are pleased to see that these issues are being raised in this new consultation. In addition, we welcome the opportunity to put forward the case for introducing water use licences, registration and management agreements. The extended role for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is very welcome. It is essential that we have a strong, effective and accountable body to carryout the role of monitoring, regulating and safeguarding Scotland's water. Throughout our response we have, therefore, emphasised the need for increased resources for SEPA so as they are able to carry out this extended role effectively.


UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 140,000 members working in the public sector. As the largest trade union in the Scottish water industry, UNISON members are both providers and users of water in Scotland. UNISON welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Scottish Executive's consultative paper The Future for Scotland's Water, proposals for legislation. This response needs to be seen in the context of our previous submissions to recent Scottish Executive consultations on the water industry.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the consultation document issued by the Scottish Executive Environment Group on the Future of Scotland's Waters - Proposals for Legislation.


Chapter 1: The River Basin Planning Process

1.3 - 1.11 River Basin Planning

We support the proposals to establish one River Basin District covering the whole of Scotland, with provisions to give Ministers powers to introduce regulations to identify river basin districts by defining their geographical boundaries.

    1. Scottish Environment Protection Agency
    2. SEPA should take the lead role in river basin management planning, however it is essential that it has the necessary resources to carry out the role effectively. The consultation documents sets out a range of specific duties and activities for SEPA to carry out. We welcome the extended role and new authorities given to SEPA, but given the additional duties there has to be an increase in resources and personnel for the body.

    3. - 1.18 Integration with other policy areas

We welcome the integration of river basin management planning (RBMPs) with other environmental policy areas, and we would like to see social and economic policy areas included in the RBMPs too. This should involve public authorities and local community groups in the planning process.

1.20 The importance of wide participation

UNISON supports the involvement of private and voluntary sectors in the provisions of RBMPs. We would also wish to see trade unions and other community and co-operative organisations participating in this process. Trade unions in particular have a wide range of skills, experience and expertise of relevance to this area of work.

Chapter 2: Environmental Outcomes: Environmental Objectives

    1. Protecting the Water Environment

UNISON very much welcomes the establishment of a framework for the protection of the water environment. Issues of damage to the environment, economic development and climate change need to be addressed through this framework.

We recognise that progress has been made in recent years in reducing the pollution of Scotland's rivers, lochs, estuaries and coastal waters. However, there is still significant pollution of Scotland's water environment. Substantial investment is needed in the underground infrastructure to reduce the pollution incidents that appear after heavy rainfall.

2.13 Robust characterisation and monitoring

We welcome the provisions for robust monitoring and detailed environmental characterisation of river basin districts. It is important to identify human activities that could potentially impact on surface water status.

Although not emphasised in the Directive, we would like to see more detail on the provisions for economic characterisation, and we welcome the commitments for SEPA to consult on the Directive's technical requirements as set out in the consultation document.

Chapter 3: Delivering Environmental Objectives

    1. Reducing the regulatory burden - A common framework for regulation.

UNISON is wary the proposals indicate that mandatory controls will only be deployed where necessary to protect the environment. We believe it would be simpler and clearer to have a uniform system of controls.

However, although the Executive intends to adopt a selective approach - we support the range of tools suggested:

  • Water use licences
  • The use of standard conditions within licences
  • General binding rules
  • Simple registration
  • Management agreements

3.11- 3.15 Water Use Licenses

UNISON supports the proposals to have water use licences that are activity and site specific. We believe it is essential that there are systems and safeguards for controlling water abstraction, impoundment and usage, and we are pleased to see the introduction of water use licences. The licensing regime should do more than establish "basic requirements" for all new operators. The highest standards must apply to new operators from the outset.

We welcome mechanisms for the identification of the operator of specific licences, and we believe that an operator should be required to inform the regulator when a change of operator occurs, this will help to identify responsibility and ownership.

We agree that there is no real value in making licences time limited, but we support the provision of mechanisms to allow the regulator to review the licence where necessary to protect the water environment, or if the activity envisaged in the licence is not being undertaken. It is important that Ministers will have the powers to require the regulator to review a licence, thus allowing Parliamentary intervention where concerns are expressed. In exceptional circumstances the regulator should have the authority to set time limits on licences to protect the environment.

UNISON welcomes moves to allow the regulator to impose necessary conditions in licences to protect the environment. It is important that the regulator is able to use this facility, so whilst we believe that the regulator should have a wide discretion to impose conditions on a water use licence, the regulator should be sufficiently independent and authoritative to do so.

3.21- 3.22 Simple Registration

It is essential that a person/organisation/company registers an intention to carry out a water use activity with the regulator prior to carrying out that activity. There should be systems to enable the regulator to approve the water use activity, so as it is not damaging to the water environment, surrounding area, and local community. In addition the regulator should be aware of the full implications regarding cumulative impacts of human activity on the water environment.

UNISON welcomes the authority of the regulator, after having received notification of activity, to determine whether simple registration is sufficient, or whether some more stringent controls are required

3.23 - 3.27 Powers of the Regulator

UNISON agrees that the regulators need to be independent, well resourced and kept informed by water users on the activities they wish to carry out. It is important that regulators do have the power to require information from water users to enable them to carry out their regulatory control powers.

It is good to see emphasis given to preventing environmental damage rather than acting only after the damage has been caused. We support the use by the Regulator of notices for control regimes as appropriate.

3.28 - 3.31 Offences

UNISON welcomes the provisions to make it an offence to carry out activities without any form of consent, or failing to comply with a particular consent of notice. We believe it is also important to have supporting offences of providing misleading information and obstructing the regulator. We agree that there needs to be systems for people/companies to defend actions, however, we support the principles of establishing an offence in carrying out activities without consent.

3.32-3.33 Appeals

We agree that there needs to be a robust appeals mechanism which is transparent, independent and fair. It is important that the Executive consult further on this issue before firm proposals are introduced.

3.34- 3.38 Information, participation and consultation

UNISON believes it is essential to involve the public and all interested parties in the management of the water environment. We also support moves to make information about individual applications for consent for water use public, so as local people and interested parties have the opportunity to respond to these applications.

UNISON is wary about giving the regulator discretion to determine the best means of publicising individual applications, and would prefer some guidelines on the publication, for example displaying on a web site, publishing in a local / national newspaper, or publishing within local authorities, etc.

We agree that the regulator should establish a Public Register of Water Use Consents, to include the register of licences issued, activities registered under GBR, activities registered under GBRs, activities which are the subject of simple notification, details of the operator, applications for review and details of any enforcement action.

3.39 - 3.42 Call in

UNISON supports the concept of the call-in procedure. It is important that third parties should have the formal right to request the call-in procedure, and that "third party" is defined widely to cover all interests, including the local community and local authority, not just developers.

We believe that it would be difficult to restrict the use of call-in to only important or significant cases, as this would mean that we need clear definitions and guidelines as to what is to be classed as an "important" or "significant" case. The call-in procedure should be sensitive to recognise and respond to the concerns of local interests.

3.43 Charging

UNISON supports the polluter pays principle and we are pleased that this principle will continue to underpin the new regimes introduced in this Bill. We welcome the requirement on the regulator to consult with interested parties on the development of a charging regime.

3.45- 3.49 Timing

UNISON believes that the proposals in the Bill should be introduced as soon as possible, as many of the provisions within the Bill are long overdue already. Whilst we recognise that the River Basin Management Plans will take time to develop, we believe that it is possible for the provisions for water use licences to go ahead without having the RBMPs in place. The proposal to allow business and other water users to not comply with rules and licences until the end of 2012 seems extraordinary. It is important that we have rules and licences to protect the water environment as soon as possible. The Executive does not offer a reasonable argument for the delay in implementing the rules and licences.

Chapter 4: Pollution

4.1 - 4.3 Pollution Controls

We would support a rigorous system of pollution control through secondary legislation. There is a widely held subjective view that Scotland benefits from very high water quality. Unfortunately, the objective evidence does not support this view. Whilst there have been fewer breaches of the Water Quality Standards in recent years the quality of water compares unfavourably with many regions in England and the rest of Europe.

4.5 - 4.7 SEPA's Role

Existing codes of good practice on tackling pollution should be given statutory force with SEPA as the body to enforce them. We also recognise the value of approaches such as education and awareness on tackling pollution and on promotion of the statutory codes. However, we believe that it is important to tackle pollution and its causes, therefore we support a mandatory code of practice for water users to comply with.

Chapter 5: Abstraction

5.1- 5.3 Introduction

UNISON very much welcomes the proposed powers for Ministers to establish a system of abstraction control by secondary legislation. We believe that it is essential that "abstraction" is clearly defined in the Bill and structures are in place to control abstraction activities.

5.4 - 5.6 Scope and Structure of the Regime

We agree that there needs to be a requirement preventing abstraction without notification to and consent from the regulator. We also support the prohibition of installation of equipment or structures for the abstraction of water, or the modification of existing equipment or structures to provide increased capacity to abstract water. SEPA should regulate the abstraction control regime, but once again it is crucial that SEPA does have the resources to be able to carry out this function efficiently and effectively.

5.7- 5.9 Thresholds

Thresholds will be of value in the abstraction control system, however they should take into account the local conditions of the water environment. SEPA should be directed to set thresholds at the lowest practical level.

5.10 Transfer of abstraction licences

UNISON believes that the regulator should be informed of transfers of licence, but we agree that it would be overly bureaucratic to make licences person specific. However, it is important to be clear that licences are there to regulate water use, and to protect the water environment. Therefore, those holding the licence have to be accountable for their actions and any failures to comply with the regulator, unless the regulator has been notified of a transfer of licence.

5.11-5.12 Interaction with existing abstraction consents

Clearly the existing rights of the three water and sewage authorities should not be detrimentally affected by the new proposals for water use licences. We would hope that these existing rights can be assimilated into the new system without adverse impact on the existing three water authorities.


Chapter 6: Impoundment


UNISON supports the introduction of systems to control impoundment, we believe it is important to be able to regulate on activities in this area, and the environmental impact they could have.

6.5-6.8 Scope and structure of the regime

We agree that it is important to define impoundment, and support the definition as set out in the consultation document. An impoundment should not be constructed nor an existing impoundment operated without notification being given to the regulator and the appropriate consent received. It is also important to prohibit the installation of works or structures intended for the impounding of a water body.

Again, we welcome the role for SEPA as the regulator of the impoundment control regime, and to extend the regulatory powers to the creation and existence of an impoundment, and to the environmental impact of an impoundment.

6.9 Thresholds

As with the application of thresholds for abstraction, UNISON supports the principle of thresholds, which are sensitive to the local water environment, and are set at the lowest practical levels.

6.10-6.11 Flexibility

It does make sense to have an impoundment regime that is flexible to cope with flood and drought situations, and we would hope that emergency provisions to deal with such situations are incorporated into the Bill.

Chapter 7: Engineering


We agree that Ministers should have powers to establish detailed provisions of the engineering control regime by statutory instrument.

7.4-7.8 Scope and structure of the regime

UNISON is concerned at the scope of the regulation, and the definition of "significant impact". We would prefer a clearer statement of what is deemed to be a significant impact on the environment, to ensure that we do have a robust system of regulating engineering work.

The new proposals should complement those of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (FEPA) framework, with SEPA regulating in the areas not covered by FEPA.

Additional Comments

Overall UNISON welcomes the proposals for contained in this latest consultation paper. It is vital that there are robust systems and safeguards for controlling water abstraction and impoundment in Scotland. In this response UNISON has emphasised the importance of additional resources and authority for SEPA to enable it to carry out its new functions efficiently and effectively. SEPA's role is increasingly important in co-ordinating, managing and regulating the proposed control regimes.

Although the threat to Scottish Water of competition is diminishing for the immediate future, it is important to remember that off-network services are still open to competition, and therefore we need clear controls and reporting systems to monitor and regulate water use activities. Without such adequate regulations Scotland's water environment is vulnerable to unscrupulous water users, compromising water quality, and putting social and environmental objectives at risk.

For further information please contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary

UNISON Scotland
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835
e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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