Stricter tests now required for authorisation of projects affecting water quality

A recent decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (dated 1 July 2015) on the EU Water Framework Directive ("WFD") means that authorities making planning decisions / other authorities granting consents in relation to projects which could impact on water resources / quality will have to apply stricter tests before authorising those projects. Accordingly "Water Framework Directive assessments" will also need to be more robust


the quality status of water bodies should be determined based on specified parameters;

and that, subject to certain exceptions / derogations:

there should be no deterioration in the status of any water body;all groundwater and surface water bodies should achieve "good status" by 2015 by progressive reduction in pollution and restoration.


whether WFD was applicable to the authorisation process for an individual project or whether it simply sets out mere management-planning objectives - in other words, was it permissible to grant a consent for a scheme that would cause deterioration to a water body, so long as, taking into account other enhancements to be made, the overall effect in the longer-term would not be a deterioration of status of that water body; and

at what point is there judged to be a deterioration of the status of the water body - is this only when the water quality lowers to such an extent that the water class is lowered according to the criteria set out in WFD, or is any deterioration in the quality of the water body relevant? Under WFD, water bodies receive an overall classification but are also classified on various quality elements which go towards the determination of the overall classification. So the Court considered whether only a fall in the overall waterbody classification constituted a "deterioration" or whether a smaller fall in quality was enough to be a "deterioration in status".

Application of WFD to individual projects

What is a "deterioration in status"?Impacts on future development consents


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.