Environment Agency has ‘no idea’ how much water is taken, says whistleblower

The government has “no idea” how much water is being taken from rivers and groundwater, according to an Environment Agency (EA) whistleblower, as swathes of England remain in drought despite recent heavy rainfall.

Rachel Salvidge www.theguardian.com 

The whistleblower told the Guardian that the EA’s regulation of water abstraction points for farms, small businesses and private water supplies was “absolutely pointless” because most were not metered and the monitoring that did take place was unreliable.

Abstractions were monitored on a rota system but the agency’s inspections were a “waste of time”, said the whistleblower, because, in most cases, the abstracting individual or organisation would report how much water they had removed based on what they had noted down on a particular day – and “they have to be taken at their word”.

“They’re not going to log an illegal number,” said the insider. “That’s why there’s so little enforcement on water abstraction, they’re not going to dob themselves in.”

The abstraction licensing regime dates back to the 1960s and successive governments have pledged to reform it for more than a decade.

According to the EA’s figures for 2018, the latest year for which data is available, there were 18,193 abstraction licences in force in England, when, it estimated, 10.4bn cubic metres was removed from non-tidal surface and groundwaters.

The Guardian asked the EA for the total number of abstraction points in England and the proportion that are monitored but was not given the information.

Abstractions of less than 20 cubic metres a day became exempt from licensing in 2005 under the Water Act. The move instantly deregulated 22,000 licences, most of which were for agricultural or private water supply purposes.

The EA said: “Abstraction licences have conditions attached to them to ensure the environment and the rights of other abstractors are protected. Our powers and duties enable us to regulate the use of water under existing licences and to decide whether to grant new ones. Where abstraction is damaging the environment, we also have the power to amend or revoke existing licences.”

However, under current rules, if the agency changes the conditions of a licence because the abstraction is damaging the environment, it must pay financial compensation to the abstractor. There are plans to remove this requirement, but not until 2028.

The EA said it “routinely require[s] the licence holder to keep a record of actual abstraction available for inspection at a relevant location. This is in addition to the requirement to provide the Environment Agency with formal records of actual abstraction and compliance inspections carried out by regulatory officers.”

It said it was reforming the abstraction management system to “maximise the amount of water available to abstractors whilst also protecting water ecosystems in line with legal requirements to reduce the risk of environmental deterioration” The EA is “committed to ending damaging abstraction of water from rivers and groundwater wherever it is cost effective to do so”, it added.

However, there are no plans to require abstractors to install water meters. The EA insider said that omission meant the system would remain seriously flawed. “You can change how much water a licence allows, but it’s pointless if there’s no meter to record it,” they said.

From next year, the agency plans to “start investigations to determine the changes that may be required to individual permanent abstraction licences”. Until then, it will “continue to seek voluntary changes to abstraction licences through negotiation and adopting nature based and catchment solutions, where possible”.

Feargal Sharkey, the vice-president of the charity WildFish, is not convinced, saying that “every day things appear more rotten” at the EA and that the regulator is “sacrificing the environment on the high altar of corporate greed”.

Dr Nathan Richardson, the head of policy and strategy at the NGO Waterwise, said: “The Environment Agency has highlighted that we face a shortfall of around 4bn litres of water a day if we want secure water supplies and a healthy environment.

“Given this challenge, it seems pretty fundamental that regulators know how much water is being abstracted, where and when. Without appropriate monitoring and enforcement, abstraction regulation won’t work and it is very difficult to ensure that water is being abstracted legally and used efficiently.”

An EA spokesperson said: “We are taking robust action to end environmentally damaging water abstraction – and we monitor the amount of water in our rivers and groundwater along with assessments of the impact of water abstraction in all of our catchments.

“Licence holders must monitor and record how much water they abstract and our programme of inspections ensures they comply with these strict conditions. We will not hesitate to take enforcement action in cases where conditions are not being met.”

Kwasi Kwarteng’s Budget fire sale has cost pensions £75bn

Former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s Budget fire sale has cost pensions £75bn, according to a report by a US investment bank

[Not his fault by the way, it was the Queen’s funeral and Liz Truss in too much of a hurry. . And you get to pay twice as the budget seeks to fill the fiscal hole. – Owl]

Patrick Tooher www.thisismoney.co.uk 

The near-collapse of the pensions market that prompted a Bank of England bailout has already cost company retirement schemes as much as £75billion, according to a report by a US investment bank. 

The huge loss in value reflects the exposure many private sector pension funds have to liability-driven investment strategies. 

They use LDIs to ensure they can afford future payouts to ten million members of final salary schemes, which pay guaranteed pensions based on workers’ pay at retirement. 

Fire sale: Many funds came unstuck after former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-Budget in September sparked an unprecedented sell-off

LDIs deploy leverage – or borrowing – to boost returns from Government bonds, known as gilts. 

But many funds came unstuck after former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-Budget in September sparked an unprecedented sell-off. 

JPMorgan reckons the fire sale of assets has cost pension funds between £65 billion and £75billion since August alone. That compares with total assets of £1.7trillion at the start of this year. 

The estimates are based on the bank’s forecast of figures due this week from the Pension Protection Fund, the safety net for the interests of around 5,200 final salary funds. 

But the final cost is likely to be much higher. ‘We reckon about 25 per cent of assets have been lost,’ said Iain Clacher, professor of pensions at Leeds University. 

Supermarket group Sainsbury’s last week revealed it made a £500million loan available to its fund to prevent a fire sale of assets. Its pension fund had already fallen 30 per cent to £8.2billion in the year before the LDI market blew up. 

The BT pension fund, which has increased its LDI use in recent years, says it lost £11billion in the turmoil. The telecom giant’s fund has slumped by more than £21billion since June 2021 as a result of its LDI strategies. 

BT this weekend defended its use of LDIs. ‘Throughout this period, the liability hedging assets performed as intended. They have fallen in value in step with a fall in the present value of our future obli­gation to pay pensions,’ it said.

‘As a result, there was no worsening of the funding position.’

Historic England Reveals its Heritage at Risk Register 2022 – more than 20 in East Devon

Today, Historic England publishes its Heritage at Risk Register for 2022. The Register gives an annual snapshot of the critical health of England’s most valued historic places and those most at risk of being lost as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development. historicengland.org.uk

There are 20+ heritage sites in East Devon including: Woodbury Castle, Bicton Garden, Church of St Lawrence, Clyst St. Lawrence, Church of St Michael, Honiton, Newenham Abbey, Axminster, Dumpdon Camp, Luppitt etc etc. (see map below)

Here, as an example, is the review of the Grade 1 Bicon Park and Garden:

“C18 and C19 country house estate developed from earlier manor. Large park, important gardens and arboretum. Registered park in three main ownerships. The core of the site, including the principal house, has been developed in the post-war era as a land-based college. Continuous pressure for development as the college has expanded has tended to erode the integrity of the designed landscape. The absence of a masterplan to guide and inform development remains a major cause for concern.

Over the past year, 175 historic buildings and sites have been added to the Register because of their deteriorating condition and 233 sites have been saved and their futures secured.

Restored, rescued, and brought back to life

Many have been rescued thanks to the hard work and dedication of local communities, who have come together to save places.

Charities, owners, local councils, and Historic England have also worked together to see historic places restored, re-used, and brought back to life.

These include two sections of Hadrian’s Wall, the ‘Dome of Home’ at the entrance to the River Mersey, the museum which houses the original manuscript of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, and one of only two moving bridges on the River Thames. Click to see larger images

As the threat of climate change grows, the reuse and sensitive upgrading of historic buildings and places becomes ever more important. Finding new uses for buildings and sites rescued from the Register avoids the high carbon emissions associated with demolishing structures and building new.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive Historic England

Funding sources

Historic England awarded £8.66 million in repair grants to 185 sites on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2021/22. In addition, 15 sites have benefitted from £3.25 million in grants from the heritage at risk strand of the Culture Recovery Fund during 2021/22. These grants help with emergency repairs to historic buildings and help protect the livelihoods of the skilled craft workers who keep our cherished historic places alive.

Internet Explorer 11 cannot display this chart / image. To see it, please use a different browser eg: Chrome or Safari.

At risk of neglect, decay or inappropriate change

 Examples include Papplewick Pumping Station in Nottingham – England’s only pumping station to still have all its original features, King Arthur’s Great Halls in Tintagel, experimental concrete homes in Essex, and the Tank House in Merseyside – the best surviving example of a late 19th century glass-making tank furnace. Click images to enlarge

Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register plays a vital role in our ongoing mission to protect and preserve our rich heritage across the country. It helps to ensure that future generations can continue to benefit from everything our historic sites and buildings have to offer. It is also wonderful to see so many heritage sites removed from the Register thanks to the support of local communities – together with Historic England.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Heritage Minister

Heritage at Risk in your area Interactive map link here

Screenshot of East Devon sites

Council calls for “patience and understanding” towards asylum seekers

Government is in such a panic that it is commandeering seaside hotels without any notice or consultation, stretching resources to breaking point.

Will Sidmouth be next? – Owl

From Western Morning News:

A Westcountry council has called on local people to show “patience and understanding” towards asylum seekers arriving in the area to be housed in local hotels.

Seafront hotels in Torquay, Paignton, Ilfracombe and Newquay are being used as short-term accommodation for people who have arrived in the UK, many having risked their lives on perilous crossings of the Channel in small boats.

Yesterday the WMN reported that frustration was growing at the imposition by the Home Office of migrants in Westcountry seaside hotels – with at least one council considering legal action to stop the practice.

Torbay Council says it was not notified in advance about a Torquay hotel now being used and is ready to seek injunctions to stop it happening again. It says services – including children’s services for new arrivals who are registering as being under 18 – are under “severe” pressure.

Meanwhile, the council has issued a statement about the current situation. It said: “The asylum seekers have now arrived safely at the hotel. Please be mindful that not all of these individuals will understand English and they may have had a very difficult experience before arriving here in the Bay. We would be grateful for your patience and understanding at what will be a worrying and confusing time for them.

“We know you will have a lot of questions about this situation, how this happened so quickly and what the council’s involvement is.”

Anne-Marie Bond, chief executive of Torbay Council, said in a statement on Wednesday: “We asked for assurance from the Home Office that there would be no further hotels in Torbay, but despite that request, we learnt on Monday 7 November that a further hotel has been stepped up by the Home Office. This was without any prior notification to us.  

“We have today asked, through our solicitors, urgent questions of the Home Office and we stand ready to issue urgent proceedings upon a response from them. 

“The social and economic impacts of these hotels are significant and the pressure that is being put upon our services, especially our Children’s Services department, is profound. With the first hotel alone, we are managing a significant number of residents who are claiming to be under the age of 18 and this is limiting our ability to undertake statutory services for children and young people.” 

Following the use of hotels in Paignton, Ilfracombe and Newquay, migrants began arriving at the prominent Torquay hotel on Monday. Torbay Conservative MP Kevin Foster said: “It is deeply frustrating to see another hotel in our key tourist areas taken out of use for tourism and converted into longer-term accommodation, with no notice at all to either Torbay Council or me as the MP until we discovered the use via another route.”

Cllr Darren Cowell, deputy leader of Torbay Council, said earlier this week: “As a council we do not have a say in how many asylum seekers are accommodated here as the Home Office makes this decision, along with where they will be staying or for how long. We have put together a multi-agency group that are working to ensure the appropriate help and support is made available.”