Defra consults on changing abstraction licenses into permits

The NFU has responded to a Defra consultation setting out its proposals to transfer abstraction licenses into the Environmental Permitting Regime (EPR).

The consultation, which closed on 22 December 2021, applies to abstraction in England only, but similar provisions are being developed in Wales.

The NFU position on abstraction and EPR is that we oppose the proposed changes because:

  • The activity of abstraction is a poor regulatory fit for EPR.
  • It will lead to reduced certainty of access to supplies of water because all permits will be reviewable by the Environment Agency.
  • Abstractors face the erosion of historic rights because EPR includes no compensation provisions.
  • Enforcement and compliance of the EPR regime will increase the burden of administration and increase business costs.

Applications for permits

The consultation proposes that, from a fixed date (not yet specified, probably in 2023), all new abstraction applications will be treated as applications for permits.

From that date, all existing abstraction and impounding licenses will automatically and legally become environmental permits referred to as ‘converted’ (or transitional) permits.

Relevant legal documents

Existing license holders will automatically become ‘operators’ (as defined by EPR) for the duration of the term of the converted (transitional) permit.

Existing conditions in the license will remain the same, and there will be no re-issue of any documents as part of the move – paper licenses will continue to be the relevant legal document for a converted (transitional) permit.

After that, licenses will gradually migrate into EPR and become full permits.

Complex legal issues

The Defra consultation described how different types of current authorization will change after the switch to EPR – permanent and time-limited licenses, spray and trickle irrigation, groundwater investigation consents, and impoundment licenses.

Much of the content of the consultation dealt with complex legal issues such as appeals, compliance, enforcement, vesting of permits, and duties for climate change adaptation, and the NFU has developed clear positions on each topic.

Members can read the NFU consultation response here.

Government response

The government response is expected in the summer of 2022 after considering and analyzing 100 responses to the consultation.

While we wait for further guidance, we have updated information following consultation with the Environment Agency.

Member briefing

Regarding several points to do with wording in the consultation, there is a need for clearer detail. 

For more information:


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