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THE shenanigans by the Environmental Agency when it digs its heels in is beyond belief, even to wasting over half a million pounds of public money to uphold its misguided decisions.
Back in 2009 two local builders, the Earl brothers in Bradford on Avon after many years investigating, managed to locate the owners of North Mill on the Avon at Avoncliff, writes Tom Oliva.
Derelict over 35 years
This is a picturesque hamlet well known to Kennet & Avon Canal boaters a couple of miles west of the town, and they arranged to purchase the property which had been derelict for over 35 years and was in a dangerous tumbledown state.
An entirely obvious feature of any restoration project was the refurbishment of the property's capacity to generate power (Green subsidy was welcome but not a show-stopper) so the Earls engaged a reputable hydro project consultancy to manage the process and they applied for the required water abstraction and impoundments licences from the Environment Agency on behalf of the Earls in September 2009.
At this point, the Earls view of the Environment Agency was that it was a trustworthy and technically authoritative public body discharging their statutory duty to process permit applications according to their documented statutory obligations—a fee of £150 was paid, all the required documents were submitted and advertising required was placed in local newspapers. So far so good—the Environment Agency now had 120 days in which to evaluate the application and issue a determination.
It should be noted here that as an integral and documented part of the licence process that all water passing over the Avoncliff Weir was now legally embargoed and no other application for that water was legally viable until the original North Mill application was determined under statutory obligation by the Environment Agency—be that a yes or a no.
Another application was indeed made, almost three months after North Mill's application and accepted by the Environment Agency—from the owner of a mill building on the opposite bank—Weaver's Mill.
The Earls were advised in February 2010 that they were issued a draft licence for the amount of water they'd requested and that this was a formality prior to the issuance of the actual licence.
What happened next eroded the Earl's original faith in the Environment Agency's integrity out of existence.
The Environment Agency stopped communicating with North Mill—any requests for information or updates were brushed aside, and the Environment Agency requested an extension to the statutory time window, which the Earls (naively in hindsight) agreed to, still clinging to their belief that the Environment Agency were a trustworthy government department.