HC Deb 15 December 1998 vol 322 c441W
Mr. Dafis

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what advice he has given to the Environment Agency concerning the implications for the management of water levels on the Somerset Levels of(a) the EU Birds Directive, (b) the EU Habitats Directive, (c) the Water Resources Act 1991 and (d) the Land Drainage Acts. [63394]

Mr. Morley

I have been asked to reply.

The Environment Agency is the principal flood defence operating authority and, in exercising those functions, is subject to the conservation duties placed on it by sections 7 and 8 of the Environment Act 1995. The Agency is required to have regard to the Habitats and Birds Directives in exercising its functions, as it is a "competent authority" under the terms of the Habitats Directive. It is also required to make an appropriate assessment of the impact before approving any plans or projects which, on their own or in combination with other plans or projects, may affect a European site. The Ministry and Welsh Office have issued a Code of Practice on Environmental Procedures for Flood Defence Operating Authorities which includes specific guidance on the responsibilities of the Agency and the other operating authorities under the Habitats and Birds Directives.

The Ministry and Welsh Office have also issued guidance to the Environment Agency and other flood defence operating authorities on the production of Water Level Management Plans. The plans provide a means by which the range of activities in a particular area, including agriculture, flood defence and conservation can be balanced and integrated. We have encouraged preparation of such plans with highest priority being given to internationally important sites, including those designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives. Water Level Management Plans are in preparation on the Somerset Levels, with the majority being produced by internal drainage boards, as the relevant operating authority.

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