Gerry Facenna QC, Daisy Mackersie and David Gregory successfully defend Environment Agency’s decision on water abstraction at Catfield Fen under the Habitats Directive

19 Sep 2016

Monckton counsel have successfully defended the Environment Agency’s decision not to renew water abstraction licences near to Catfield Fen in Norfolk.  The applications were to allow the continued use of groundwater for agricultural purposes from existing abstraction sites near to a Special Area of Conservation protected by the EU Habitats Directive.  Catfield Fen contains calcareous fen (a priority habitat under the Habitats Directive) as well as a large population of the rare fen orchid and protected water beetles.

The decision of the Environment Agency to refuse the licences was considered at a three week planning inquiry held in Norwich in Spring 2016.  At the inquiry the Environment Agency, supported by Natural England and the RSPB, presented evidence of rapid ecological change on site suggestive of deteriorating water chemistry which was potentially a result of the water abstractions. By contrast the appellant contended that, applying the test under the Habitats Directive, it was beyond reasonable scientific doubt that the water abstractions were not responsible for any ecological change.

Having considered detailed expert evidence on fen ecology, hydrogeology and water chemistry, Elizabeth Hill BSc(Hons), BPhil, MRTPI, the Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, dismissed the appeals, finding: ‘it cannot be concluded beyond reasonable scientific doubt that abstraction under the licences would not have an adverse effect on the integrity of sites protected by European law, namely, the Broads SAC.’ She also rejected arguments that the licences should be granted in any event due to “imperative reasons of overriding public interest”, namely the impact of refusing the licences on the economy.

The Planning Inspector’s decision can be read here.

The Environment Agency was represented by Gerry Facenna QC, Daisy Mackersie and David Gregory.