Government to appeal High Court ruling, despite its own Watchdog Revealing it is Failing England’s Rivers

11th May 2024

Last year, with a group of Yorkshire anglers, Fish Legal won a landmark case that exposed why the Government and the Environment Agency will not meet environmental targets for water. Today, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) released a report confirming that “underlying and seemingly endemic issues” such as “a lack of robust delivery arrangements and poor governance” by the Government and its agencies will lead to just a 5% improvement in the health of England’s Rivers by 2027.

In last year’s judicial review, Fish Legal argued that the Government and Environment Agency are legally required to assess every waterbody up and down the country and devise specific actions to improve their overall health. The judge agreed. Today, the OEP revealed that in the absence of specific, committed actions, just 21% of surface waters in England are likely to be in Good Ecological condition by 2027, a minor improvement on the present modest total of 16% (14% of rivers) and far short of the targets.

Despite this, the Government and Environment Agency were given permission to appeal the High Court’s ruling that they had misunderstood their duties to restore England’s rivers. The original decision was focussed on the Costa Beck in North Yorkshire, a case brought by Fish Legal on behalf of Pickering Fishery Association. Yet it had national implications, bringing into question the Environment Agency’s whole approach to the river basin management planning process.

Given the far-reaching implications of the November judgement ‘for every other watercourse in the country’, Mrs Justice Lieven granted permission for the case to go to the Court of Appeal.

Penelope Gane, Head of Practice at Fish Legal said, “When it comes to restoring the health of our rivers, lakes and coastal waters, the Government and the Environment Agency are essentially planning to fail.  Fish Legal, and our member angling club, will be going to the Court of Appeal to force them to change course, not just for the sake of one local river but for the sake of every river in the country which, as the Judge and now the OEP have both acknowledged, is in the public interest.”

Andrew Kelton, Fish Legal solicitor, said: “The OEP report effectively supports the judge’s ruling in our case that the Government’s interpretation of its legal obligations for river planning and restoration is incorrect and inadequate, confirming that there has been a systemic failure to progress the plans for two decades, with the deadline now just three years away. Let us hope that the combined public pressure will now be able to turn around this ‘plan to fail’.”

You might also like