Councillors Warn Of Threat To Islands’ Viability Over New Water Legislation

desalination plant signThe Council is warning all residents that potential changes to the water legislation in Scilly is a “threat to the viability of our islands” and could cost “tens of millions of pounds” to implement.

In December, Defra launched a major consultation into its proposals to bring Scilly into line with existing national laws on water supply and sewerage.

We’re currently not covered by many of the provisions of the Water Industry and Water Resources Acts.

Scilly also doesn’t comply with several EU Directives on water quality and the Government could be fined if that isn’t fixed.

But in a letter being sent to every household in Scilly, Council Chairman Amanda Martin, Vice Chairman Gaz O’Neill and the Chairman of the General Purposes Committee Steve Sims accuse Defra of minimising the impact of the changes in their consultation document, which is available online.

They say the implications for islanders and businesses are “profound” and funding the necessary upgrades to our infrastructure will be prohibitively expensive.

The three councillors claim that businesses could be fined, or invalidate their insurance policies, if they don’t comply with any new rules.

They’ve asked all residents and business owners to attend a series of meetings being held on each island next week. That’s ahead of a visit by Defra officials starting on the 19th January to collect islanders’ views on the proposals.

Defra’s 74-page consultation document describes what legislation they’d like to introduce and how that might happen.

That would include bringing our infrastructure up to the national standard, particularly the sewerage systems in Hugh Town and Old Town.

The three councillors have warned that the work will cost “tens of millions of pounds” but Defra says it’s likely to cost only an extra £4m on top of the £2.5m already received by the Council for this work.

Other changes include allowing the Council to become a ‘water and sewerage undertaker,’ something that’s reserved for privatised companies on the mainland.

They’d be responsible for evaluating the quality of private water supplies on the off-islands and would need to comply with the current sewerage standards. They’d also need to check the quality of any beaches that are designated as bathing areas.

Around 10% of private septic tanks on the islands, located close to boreholes and wells, could need permits at a cost of £125 a year.

And the Environment Agency and Drinking Water Inspectorate would also be given full powers on the islands, including the ability to charge for their services. Defra says this is likely to cost less than £20,000 a year.

We asked Defra for their response to the open letter sent by the councillors. In a statement to Radio Scilly, a Defra spokesperson said: “This consultation will help to inform our understanding of the potential impacts of the implementation of regulation, including costs and funding. No decisions have been made on this and affordability remains a key priority of any future proposals.”

The situation is complex in Scilly. Not one single body is in overall control, with the Duchy looking after some water supply and sewerage on St Agnes and St Martin’s, and Tresco Estate being responsible on their island. Defra says they may have to foot the bill for some upgrades, alongside small businesses like hotels and campsites.

Duchy Land Steward Chris Gregory told Radio Scilly yesterday that he believes Scilly should have the same standards as the rest of the UK but he says the cost of achieving that is a concern.

He says he’s had discussions with Defra and they “haven’t been dismissive.” They’ve been willing to listen to the Duchy’s concerns, says Chris, and are taking the time to find out for themselves what the problems might be.

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