To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what measures exist to protect ratepayers against the possibility of unwise expenditure in the event of a drainage authority proceeding with a drainage scheme without having sought grant-aid from his Department, or having sought but failed to obtain grant-aid from his Department.
Most land drainage schemes are carried out by the water authorities. Decisions are taken by specialist regional or local land drainage committees which consist of persons expert in the subject with, in addition, a built-in majority of members of the constituent councils whose ratepayers fund the expenditure. The committees take account of all aspects of the proposals, including economic worthwhileness.In certain parts of the country, smaller drainage schemes may also be carried out by internal drainage boards accountable to the ratepayers who elect him. In addition, the boards are subject to the overall supervision of the relevant water authority.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will describe the procedures for the environmental scrutiny of arterial land drainage schemes in the event of a drainage authority deciding not to apply for grant-aid from his Department; and, in the event of such a decision by a drainage authority, what are the procedures for resolving objections from conservation bodies, statutory or voluntary, to a potentially environmentally damaging scheme.
In implementing their statutory obligations under the Water Act 1973 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 drainage authorities consult widely with the relevant organisations concerned with conservation from the earliest planning stages of proposed works. The aim of these consultations is not only to avoid damage but to further and enhance sensitive features and wildlife consistent with authorities' statutory drainage responsibilities. I am not aware that in recent years any potentially environmentally damaging scheme has gone ahead in my area of responsibility in the face of objections from conservation bodies.