Adam Afriyie (Windsor, Conservative): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what recent progress has been made in deregulating the consent process for river maintenance pilots; and what plans she has to start new pilot schemes (a) along the Thames in Berkshire and (b) elsewhere.
Dan Rogerson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for water, forestry, rural affairs and resource): On 10 December 2014, Defra launched a consultation on proposals to integrate flood defence consents into the Environmental Permitting framework. The new scheme will simplify the application process while removing unnecessary costs and burdens for those who wish to carry out construction works or other activities in, or near, main rivers.
The River Maintenance Pilots (which explore how red tape could be reduced for landowners who wish to undertake maintenance in man-made ditches, land drains or previously straightened watercourses that had been dredged in the last ten years) were launched by the Environment Agency in October 2013 and were scheduled to last for one year. In response to interest shown by local farmers, the pilots were expanded in May 2014 to include two new pilot areas, and expand an existing area. To allow those affected by the 2013/14 floods extra time to carry out their work, the pilots were also extended until mid-March 2015. We will consider the evidence from the pilots when they are complete.
In addition, the Environment Agency and National Farmers Union are launching a new local initiative across rural Oxfordshire to help landowners along tributaries of the River Thames with the consenting process. This initiative will start in 2015/16 and it is likely to expand into Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.