The Planning Inspector has rejected comprehensively Mr Alston’s appeal
The Planning Inspector has rejected comprehensively Mr Alston’s appeal against the loss of his abstraction licences.
In simple terms the Inspector has found after the three and a half week Public Inquiry held in April in Norwich that:
– ecological change confirms that the Fen is in danger
– increasing acidification is the cause
– water abstraction is the most likely explanation by reducing the flow of alkaline groundwater to the Fen
– our fen management is good and not the cause of the problem
– there is no overriding public interest that Mr Alston should not lose his licences
It is remarkable that after eight years the Environment Agency,Natural England,the RSPB and now the Planning Inspector all agree the scientific analysis put forward by our experts!
Read the document here.
Notice – Final Submissions
Submissions by legal counsel for the EA and Harrises have been submitted and are published on this website. Legal counsel for the Appellant provided submissions that were posted shortly after 7pm. They are all also to be published on the EA’s site.
These are the final closing submissions. Please do not respond to the Planning Inspector or any other party as these documents represent the final submissions to the appeal. The public have already had the opportunity to make their views known at the Inquiry. No further submissions by any party will be accepted.
Day 10 started with a brief statement from Prof Gilvear confirming his views expressed on Day 7 and going further in saying that some of the text of his seminal paper of 25 years ago was unreliable. As a result Dr Grout was briefly recalled to give evidence. He said that although Prof Gilvear’s work of 25 years ago had been used by the EA, they were confident that their water balance calculations were unaffected. This was accepted by Mr Banner, Mr Alston’s counsel. Mr Dodds then gave evidence for the rest of the day. He said that the flow of groundwater to the fen surface was small and could not have caused the reported ecological change which he attributed to changes to operation of the sluices. In cross-examination Mr Facenna questioned Mr Dodds on his theory of restricted groundwater flow to the surface. Then Ms Thornton pressed Mr Dodds strongly on the”attack” he had made on Dr Barendregt. Finally she questioned Mr Dodds on what evidence he had to support his theory on the sluices.
Mr Dodds was the Inquiry’s final witness.
Day 9 started at lunchtime with the evidence of Mr Collison, the appellant’s expert on farming economics. He outlined a series of adverse economic effects from the loss of Mr Alston’s licences with the loss of Mr Alston’s job, related job losses locally in the Broads and in the wider UK. Mr Collison suggested that the whole UK irrigated potato crop was under threat, presumably because Catfield would become a test case. Mr Facenna, the EA’s QC explored this case in cross-examination, suggesting that it was improbable. In further cross-examination from Justine Thornton QC, Mr Collison dismissed any effect on tourism from the loss of the Fen as immaterial and suggested that the Harrises would be better off if they ploughed up their pastureland which was protecting the Fen. Ms Thornton pointed out that there were social benefits from conservation that were recognised by the law.
Day 8 began with a statement from Dr Tim Pankhurst, the leading expert on the fen orchid. He confirmed that in his view a fen orchid would die in one to two years if it were surrounded by sphagnum moss.
The rest of the day was taken up by Dr Painter, Mr Alston’s ecological expert. He acknowledged that ecological change was happening but attributed it to a passive sluice management policy which created good conditions for sphagnum to thrive. In his view, traditional reed management had involved much more letting of water on and off the Fen.
He was cross-examined at length on these views first by Mr Facenna, the QC for the EA, then by Ms Thornton, the QC for Mr and Mrs Harris, to such an extent that he was still giving evidence at the end of the day when the Inquiry was adjourned until May 3rd, the beginning of the last week of the Inquiry.
Day 7 of the Public Inquiry was taken up with evidence from the party 6 (Harris) hydrologists. Prof Gilder caused some consternation by saying that overnight he had noticed that a graph in a paper that he and several other leading hydrologists had published twenty five years ago had been wrongly labelled. This caused some concern on the Alston side because they had relied on it. As a result they were given more time to respond. Dr Bradley then gave his evidence and demonstrated that the EA’s model could not adequately deal with water chemistry.
Tim Harris ran through the eight year history of the case and concluded that action was essential because both NE and Dr Barendregt believed that the Fen was in danger.
Finally Andrew Alston spoke briefly saying that abstraction was essential for his business.
Dr Jo Parmenter gave all the evidence on the sixth day of the Public Inquiry.
An ecologist, Dr Parmenter made quite clear that in her view Catfield Fen was being damaged by water abstraction. She was subject to a thorough cross-examination by Mr Banner but survived!
The Public Inquiry reopened on Tuesday.
The morning saw Mr Banner’s cross examination of the EA’s legal representative, Ms Bayley. The question was raised whether there was an overriding public interest in Mr Alston retaining his licence.
Then Mr Starling, a reed cutter spoke in support of Mr Alston. He wanted to see more commercial reed grown but admitted that he was speaking generally and had no first hand experience of Catfield Fen.
Mr Davies,an independent, then spoke. He said that his family had owned a manufacturing business in Norfolk for over a hundred years. He deplored the fact that the NFU was paying for Mr Alston’s appeal particularly as Mr Alston on his own admission was worth £4m and was selling on the water, a precious national resource. He also emphasised the importance of tourism to the Broads.
The rest of the day was taken up with Mr and Mrs Harris’ witnesses. Peter Riches gave evidence about fen management and water management and was subject to extensive cross examination by Mr Banner. Dr Parmenter then gave her evidence on the fen ecology. Her turn with Mr Banner is tomorrow, Wednesday.
All of Day 4 was taken up with the evidence of Dr Fojt of Natural England and Richard Mason of the RSPB.They were closely cross-examined by Mr Banner,the barrister for Mr Alston.
Day 3 was taken up with a site visit to both Catfield and Sutton Fens to provide a contrast. It lasted all day, fortunately in sunny weather and all parties got the opportunity to get to know the lie of the land.
On Day 2 the Environment Agency witnesses gave their evidence explaining why they had refused to renew the Alston abstraction licences.They consisted primarily of their Hydrological Modelling team,consisting of Drs Grout,Lewis and Carey.An independent witness,Mr Patel, who drove especially up from London,spoke about his happy holidays in the Broads and the need to preserve them for his children.There should be no further delays in reaching a decision.
First Day Summary
The morning of the first day of the Inquiry was taken up in administrative matters and the opening statements from counsel. Unfortunately despite an eloquent request from our QC, Justine Thornton, the Inspector declined to allow her to cross examine the EA witnesses as technically we are on the same side. The Planning Inspector has discretion in such matters.
Most of the afternoon was taken up with the cross examination of Dr Barendregt by Mr Alston’s counsel. Dr Barendregt quietly but firmly put across his view that Catfield Fen was suffering from acidification related to groundwater abstraction and that it was close to, if not at, the tipping point to permanent damage.
The final part of the day was taken up with Dr Grout’s statement of case for the Environment Agency confirming that they were against the renewal of the abstraction licences.
The RSPB is also objecting to the water abstraction licence applications, whose own research confirms the view that the site is becoming more acidic, and is concerned that other fens in the UK are also being damaged by similar applications elsewhere. The organisation is arguing for a need for more detailed assessments, and wider research into internationally important wetlands to make sure they are protected in the future. This cannot happen without a public inquiry. Is the EA frightened of the consequences of its model being found inadequate?
A Range of Views
Tim and Geli Harris, the instigators of this campaign and an official interested party, have been joined by the RSPB in their work to determine what exactly is happening to the fen, and why there has been such little response to their findings.
Expert scientists Professor David Gilvear, Dr Jo Parmenter, Dr Aat Barendregt and Dr Chris Bradley believe that the fen is at risk of destruction because of water abstraction and that the present system fails to integrate properly the ecological and hydrological evidence. They argue for a comprehensive overview.
The Environment Agency and Natural England, the statutory bodies responsible for the monitoring and management of our wetlands, are legally responsible in this case; however, the Catfield experience has exposed weaknesses in how they monitor and assess the effect of water abstraction in wetlands. Most particularly, the Environment Agency’s model-based approach and Natural England’s condition assessment reporting are revealed as not fit for purpose.
The National Farmers’ Union believe that farmers need water abstraction to prosper and feed the world.
We believe a multi-disciplinary process is needed to determine how best we can limit the damage to the fen while farmers still work the land.