Oxfordshire's rivers, lakes, streams, manmade lakes and canal are an integral part of the county’s ecosystems, heritage and identity. They provide a wide range of services, including:
providing/supporting a diverse range of habitats and wildlife (including nationally and internationally protected habitats) such as chalk streams;
providing water supplies for homes and businesses;
providing opportunities for sports, leisure and recreation;
contributing to landscape character and sense of place; and
In addition, Oxfordshire's groundwater resources have an important role in providing drinking water (a third of drinking water in England comes from groundwater), supporting agriculture and naturally recharging rivers, lakes and streams.
Map showing surface waterbodies in Oxfordshire
The quality of Oxfordshire's waterbodies affects the health and wellbeing of our communities, natural environment and businesses.
Activities that can affect the quality of Oxfordshire's waterbodies include pollution from wastewater or sewage, pollution from built development and transport, physical modifications to the size and shape of natural river channels and pollution from agriculture.
It is important that the Oxfordshire Plan helps to:
prevent new and existing development from contributing to water pollution;
prevent new and existing development from being affected by unacceptable levels of water pollution; and
ensure that new development seeks to improve water quality wherever possible.
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) provides a framework for the protection of inland surface waters, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater. It requires the achievement of a 'good' qualitative and quantitative status for all water bodies. Whilst the UK is no longer part of the European Union, this requirement was transposed into UK law and implemented through the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003. The principle of all waterbodies aiming to achieve good ecological status is also broadly aligned with the principles set out in the Government's 25-Year Environment Plan.
River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) implement the EU Water Framework Directive. They cover entire river systems (including river, lake, groundwater, estuarine and coastal waterbodies) and aim to protect and improve the quality of our water environment. Oxfordshire is within the Thames River Basin District. Consideration should be given to the Thames River Basin District RBMP in producing the Oxfordshire Plan and in making planning decisions.
It should be noted that RBMPs are updated every six years. The current Thames River Basin District RBMP was published in 2016. A review of this plan is currently underway and consultation on the draft RBMP is expected during 2021.
An Oxfordshire focused Water Cycle Study is also being undertaken to inform the production of the Oxfordshire Plan. The Phase 1 Water Cycle Study sets out baseline information on water quality in Oxfordshire and considers, at a high level, the potential impacts of growth. A more detailed Phase 2 Water Cycle Study will be undertaken to help inform the next stages of the plan-making process. It will help to inform where growth is proposed in Oxfordshire and the infrastructure needed to support and mitigate it. The Phase 2 Water Cycle Study will be published at the next stage of consultation (Regulation 19).
One option would be to not have a strategic policy on water quality in the Oxfordshire Plan and to instead leave it to local plans to set policies in relation to water quality.
This is not the preferred option as there is a risk that local plans might take different approaches to water quality. This could result in less certainty and clarity for developers and communities. It may also make it more difficult to meet proposed ambitions around environmental improvement and nature recovery.
Preferred Policy Option
The preferred approach is for the Oxfordshire Plan to provide a strategic planning framework for the protection and enhancement of water quality in Oxfordshire. This framework would set minimum standards for development in Oxfordshire, helping to ensure a consistent approach across the county. It would also provide a framework for improving water quality wherever possible, aligning with proposed ambitions around environmental improvement and nature recovery. Local plans could provide further detail as appropriate.
Policy Option 11: Water Quality
The Oxfordshire Plan would require the following: Water quality to be protected and enhanced. All development to take account of its potential impact on water quality. Development to cause no deterioration in the quality of waterbodies, surface water and groundwater, nor would it prevent the future attainment of 'good' status under the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017 and Groundwater Direction 2016 or subsequent amendments. Where there are impact pathways on habitats of national or international importance, development would not prevent a protected waterbody achieving the objectives set out in the Common Standards Monitoring Guidance (CSMG). Development to improve water quality wherever possible by:
a) incorporating appropriate green infrastructure and Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) to manage and treat surface water run off close to source and to minimise the risk from contaminants and sediment;
b) reducing the risk of discharges of surface waters to the sewerage network and of pollution, including groundwater infiltration, from wastewater treatment works;
c) prioritising natural flood management over hard flood defences;
d) protecting and enhancing watercourses and habitats along river corridors;
e) where appropriate restoring 'natural' systems, including de-culverting, restoring or re-profiling rivers and naturalising riverbanks;
f) adopting water efficiency measures to reduce pressure from low water levels and flows;
g) restoring contaminated land;
h) and working with and taking opportunities identified by River Basin Management Plans, Catchment Partnerships and flood risk management authorities. Major development to be phased to align with any necessary wastewater treatment work and associated infrastructure upgrades to ensure that development would not lead to a deterioration in the quality of receiving waterbodies. Measures to help waterbodies in Oxfordshire achieve Bathing Water Status, which help to protect and enhance water quality for all river users, to be supported.
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