Defra Singing From ‘Same Hymn Sheet’ Over Water Law Changes Says Councillor

Cllr Robert Dorrien Smith

Cllr Robert Dorrien Smith

A Tresco councillor says he detected a clear change in Defra’s attitude to proposed new water legislation in Scilly following the four days of consultation held with residents.

Representatives from Defra, the Drinking Water Inspectorate and the Environment Agency organised public meetings two weeks ago on all the islands to discuss their plans to bring Scilly into line with existing UK water and sewerage legislation.

Cllr Robert Dorrien Smith told members at this week’s Full Council meeting that he felt there was a “degree of pragmatism” from the government agencies at the end of the week, that wasn’t there when they arrived.

He said he had “more faith that they are on the same hymn sheet as us and looking for a solution to benefit us all.”

Robert apologised to Council officers who he said were “more aggressive on this matter” but he felt they had to be pragmatic.

He said both Defra and the Environment Agency made it clear that the extent and timetable of introducing the legislation was “in their gift” and they “can’t make us do it if we have not got the money.”

“It’s not in their interest or the islands’ interest to come in and drive tanks over the lawn,” he said.

If the money isn’t available by the time the legislation starts, Robert said, “you agree priorities, a timetable and a plan to get funding.”

In January, Council Chairman Amanda Martin, Vice Chairman Gaz O’Neill and the Chairman of the General Purposes Committee Steve Sims, addressed a letter to all island residents, describing how the new rules could cost “tens of millions of pounds” to implement and affect the islands’ reputation as a tourist destination.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, Cllr Sims said that a month ago he was “happy to be part of the scaremongering politburo” but had “now resigned” from that position.

Steve said he felt the proposals aren’t as bad as a lot of people think and Defra is likely to be helpful, “as long as we’re making progress.”

But not all councillors agreed with that view.

St Martin’s representative, Christine Savill, said she must be “getting a bit cynical” in her old age because she didn’t feel as confident as her fellow members after the consultation.

She felt Defra was “saying what they wanted us to hear.”

Chris said the impact of the legislation would be “huge” and Defra hadn’t done a thorough enough assessment. She added, “not even the Duchy knows where every septic tank is, especially on St Martins.”

A report presented to councillors by the Senior Manager for Infrastructure Craig Dryden highlighted the potential costs of upgrades to water and sewerage systems, the ongoing financial burden on the Council having to monitor private water supplies on the islands and potential conflicts of interest as both water supplier and regulator.

He asked councillors to approve the response to Defra, including asking them to recognise that their estimates of cost are inaccurate and that more data is needed to assess the impact of the legislation in Scilly.