|Fitting in with Brussels:
Implementing the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive in England and Wales
* SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research, Mantell Building,
University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9RF, UK. Email: A.G.Smith@sussex.ac.uk.
Published in Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, 2000,
Vol. 2, No. 2, pp.115-134.
This paper analyses implementation of the 1991 Urban Waste Water
Treatment Directive (UWWTD) in England and Wales. In its Fifth Environmental Action
Programme (EAP, 1993-2000), the European Commission committed itself to improving the
implementation of EU environmental policies. It has been suggested that implementation
will be more effective when the fit between Directive imperative and Member State
administrative tradition is close. Unfortunately, the fit approach sheds little light on
the processes by which an accommodation is reached between Directive and Member State. The
approach to UWWTD implementation taken in England and Wales has recently shifted, changing
from a minimalist approach to a more precautionary approach. This change affords a useful
opportunity to analyse the processes by which Member States and Directive requirements
mutually adjust during implementation. In this case, these processes are explained by
broadening the analytical sweep to include the machinations of relevant Member State
policy networks and the influence of outsider policy beliefs that orbit those networks.
In its Fifth Environmental Action Programme (5th EAP, 1993-2000), the
European Commission committed itself to improving the implementation of EU environmental
policies (O.J. C138 17/05/93). If EU policy is to be more than a paper exercise, then
tangible results on the ground must be the final arbiter of those policies (Jordan, 1999,
p.72). The Commission realise that policy success rests as much upon effective
implementation beyond legal transposition as it does in the initial design of policy
instruments. What influences the national implementation of European Directives? And how
do these processes shape final Directive outputs? This paper seeks to answer these two
questions for the case of the 1991 Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD; CEC,
1991) implemented in England and Wales. In so doing, it explores in greater detail the
notion of fit that has been developed by others to explain implementation of European
Directives (Knill, 1998). Essentially, the better the fit between Directive requirement
and national administration, the more effective the implementation (i.e. it is the fit
that influences Directive outputs). This view implies 5th EAP ambitions will be met if the
Commission and Member States improve the fit between Directive and national
The primary purpose of this paper is to present an empirical study. But
this study is presented in such a way as to problematise narrow approaches to fit, and to
explore the case from a broader perspective. This view implies practical Directive
requirements are not set out in detail a priori, and that they are open to a degree
of bargaining at national and sub-national levels.
The UWWTD was transposed for implementation in England and Wales in
1994, so its implementation has been contemporary to the 5th EAP. The case study is
interesting because the approach taken in England and Wales changed recently: from a
minimalist interpretation to a more precautionary approach. This change affords a useful
opportunity to analyse influences upon Directive implementation. Moreover, the UWWTD was
pitched into a highly unstable English and Welsh regulatory system, in which
administrative traditions were in a state of flux following privatisation of the water
industry in 1989. This makes the Member State a suitable choice for studying processes
whereby the implementation of Directive imperatives and national circumstances co-adapt.
Earlier studies have explained why the UK yielded to Europe and agreed to the UWWTD
(Jordan and Greenaway, 1998; Ward, 1998), but none have really analysed how it has been
implemented. What is remarkable about the English and Welsh case study is that its
implementation is inexplicable without analysing the economic regulatory framework.
The influence of this non-environmental regulatory regime in this case is illuminating for
Member States currently liberalising their own utility services.
The fit between Directive imperative and national administrative
Fit compares Directive requirement with existing administrative systems
in Member States. Fit, so the argument goes, explains the difficulty of adaptation between
national administrations and Directives and hence the effectiveness of implementation. It
hypothesises that the better the fit, the more effective the implementation, i.e. the more
readily Member States adopt and act upon Directive requirement (Knill, 1998, p.2).
Christoph Knill has developed this notion and measures fit by comparing Member State
administrative traditions against the nature of requirements in the Directive (ibid, p.4).
Accordingly, it is these two variables which will answer our research questions concerning
national influences upon Directive outputs (i.e. national administrative tradition and
Directive requirement). The greater the mismatch, the higher the degree of administrative
adaptation required by Member States (ibid, p.2) or, conversely, the stronger the effect
of national institutions on the implementation of the Directive.
Unfortunately, as Knill rightly concludes, the fit model cannot tell us
a great deal beyond anticipating effective implementation when there is little adaptive
pressure, and less effective implementation in cases of high adaptive pressure (1998,
p.25). Ironically, if there is a good fit then there may have been little need for the
Directive in a particular Member State in the first place. The Netherlands was already
meeting the requirements of the UWWTD when it was being negotiated, for a variety of
domestic reasons (Kelder, 1999). Thus Directives need sometimes to be viewed as a device
for moving laggard countries closer to the vanguard. With laggard Member States we can
expect at least a moderate degree of misfit; and it is the processes by which the
national administration changes to fit Directive requirement that is interesting
In this respect, the fit approach implies a top-down view of
implementation, i.e. the process of implementation will involve authoritative Member State
policy-makers at the top forging a hierarchical implementation chain of
subordinate administrative units to deliver Directive requirements on the ground (Pressman
and Wildavsky, 1973). Essentially, the challenge to Member States is to provide the
necessary administrative units and personnel (e.g. the environmental regulatory body and
its inspectors) with sufficient resources and clear instructions that will deliver given
and accepted Directive requirements (Mazmanian and Sabatier, 1989, p.290). Implementation
is assumed to be a fundamentally managerial task. This is a view held by some policy
practitioners (Rhodes and Marsh, 1992), and we can see evidence of this in the way the
Department of the Environment (DoE) created an Implementation Group of water company,
environmental regulator and economic regulator representatives to coordinate UWWTD
implementation in England and Wales and pass guidance onto their respective subaltern
However, another (bottom-up) stream in the implementation studies
literature points out that these assumptions ignore the reality of policy
modification or distortion at the hands of policy implementers (Younis and Davidson,
1990, p.12). Top-level policy-makers in Member States may not wish to implement the
Directive effectively. Even if they have the will, they may not be able to translate
Directive requirements into detailed instructions for each organisational link in the
implementation chain (Sabatier, 1986). Some discretion is inevitable. Moreover, the
Directive requirements themselves may be somewhat vague and open to interpretation.
Whether it is the top-level policy-makers or street-level bureaucrats, such discretion
allows the Directive to be interpreted differently in the light of their contrasting prior
interests and beliefs, or simply to cope with working pressures on the ground or to suit
the prevailing political climate (Lipsky, 1982; Fineman, 1998). In effect, precise policy
requirements only become apparent with hindsight, after they are translated into
action, and are not necessarily clear a priori (Barrett and Fudge, 1981, p.25).
Finally, some important resources may be possessed by actors beyond the direct authority
and control of top-level policy-makers (Hanf, 1982), and such resource interdependencies
afford opportunities for the resource possessor to bargain over the way a Directive is
interpreted (Wilks and Wright, 1987, pp.4-5). In other words, the bottom-up view argues
the operation of domestic policy networks beyond national administrations can
significantly influence Directive implementation (see below). Implementation possesses
important political dimensions (Barrett and Fudge, 1981; Ham and Hill, 1993; John, 1998).
It implies this analysis of UWWTD will have to widen its scope beyond administration in
order to explain responses to adaptive pressure.
A second process can subsequently be added to the fit administrative
adaptation idea for further development:
- the original adaptation pressure exerted by Directive requirement (however vague) upon a
national administration (i.e. the top-down influence); and
- the influence of interested national and sub-national policy actors upon
interpretation of the Directive (i.e. the bottom-up influence).
Situations of moderate fit involve a confluence of Directive imperative
and national influence, and anticipate a process of co-adaptation or mutual
adjustment. The Directive presses a degree of change upon existing administrative
practices, whilst domestic policy actors will seek to exert influence over the precise
interpretation of the Directive and change in practice (Barrett and Fudge, 1981, p.24).
The revised hypothesis is that the inevitable discretion in Directive requirement allows
domestic interests and policy beliefs to influence national implementation of a Directive,
subject to associated resource interdependencies. In this regard, whilst Knill does not
use policy network terminology, his discussion nevertheless implies that fit can be
influenced by domestic network processes between state and non-state actors, since these
influence administrative change and adaptation (Knill, 1998, pp.4-9; ORiordan and
Jordan, 1996, p.76). Networks of actors clustered around key government departments -
cemented together by resource interdependencies - include less formal arrangements that
effectively mediate institutionalised activities and implementation processes (e.g. shared
assumptions, tacit agreements to consult one another to the exclusion of others, common
values, and rules of interaction) (Marsh, 1998).
From this broader perspective on implementation, the ability to
adapt to a Directive depends upon the capabilities and resources of actors in the policy
network (e.g. information, organisational capacity, economic resources, technical
capabilities, authority to take decisions, legitimacy and support from key
constituencies). So, for example, in Spain there was an absence of wastewater
administration ahead of the UWWTD. European cohesion funds have provided the financial
resources to build new treatment plant, but not the revenues to operate them. The success
(or otherwise) with which the UWWTD has been implemented has depended upon the ability of
the regional Comunidades Autonomas and local municipalities to build the
organisational resources to begin collecting water charges to run the plant. This has
posed a considerable political challenge in a country where water charges have been very
low or almost non-existent (Calleja, Rebollo and Hemmelskamp, 1999).
Indeed, the willingness to adapt depends upon how adaptive
pressure is perceived by network members in the context of existing rules of the game and
the dominant policy beliefs in the network. Implementation will be effective if the
Directive works with the national grain of core rules, procedures and policy beliefs, and
only requires adaptation within them - rather than confronting the core and demanding
wholescale changes. Depending upon the degree to which beliefs are shared within a policy
network, and how these chime with Directive objectives, the ability to implement
effectively may actually be in tension with the willingness to do so. Thus we might expect
domestic networks toward the policy community end of the spectrum (i.e. highly cohesive
networks of policy actors sharing common policy beliefs and exchanging influential
resources) to be able to respond to a Directive (positively or negatively) much more
readily than if the sector is inhabited by a much less cohesive issue network (i.e. few
shared policy beliefs and poorly resourced) (see Rhodes and Marsh, 1992b; Bressers and
OToole, 1994; Peterson, 1995). However, as has been argued elsewhere, it is
understanding the operation of policy networks that is more important analytically
than simply labelling them (Smith, 2000).
Fit, then, is no static lore. Its dynamism will mirror the extent to
which the policy network changes over time. The Directive itself can demand change to
networks, but so too can wider societal forces (Knill, 1998, p.8). How might these wider
forces affect Directive outputs? Sometimes they may work to align the network closer with
Directive demands, but other times they might exacerbate divergence. Coalitions of policy
actors at odds with the domestic policy network, and by definition its core rules and
beliefs, may, for example, demand change which supports or even surpasses a challenging
Directive (Sabatier, 1998; Hajer, 1995). Changing socio-economic circumstances can also
bring forth change (Smith, 1993). This suggests analysis of Directive implementation needs
to be longitudinal and take heed of wider policy beliefs and socio-economic factors that
impinge upon policy networks since these might alter the translation of a Directive into
action. A conclusion similar to that from the implementation literature is thus reached,
the national understanding of what the Directive requires will be shaped by domestic
In summary, the approach proposed here stresses a need to move beyond a
static comparison between Directive requirement and the immediate administrative tradition
in place in a Member State (e.g. national laws and official guidelines). The theoretical
discussion argues that fit, whilst usefully identifying adaptive pressure, fails to
explain how adaptation might unfold. The UWWTD analysis needs to test this by identifying
areas of discretion in the Directive and examining how they are used. The hypothesis
developed above argues such areas will be interpreted to accommodate domestic policy
network priorities, but that these can themselves be unstable and subject to wider
domestic pressures. So we need to step outside the administrative unit responsible for
delivering the Directive in the sector. Implementation can, arguably, be understood better
through analysis of the interoganisational dynamics in the domestic policy sector (Knill,
1998; see also Hanf, 1982). Such an analysis needs to identify in these interactions the
resource interdependencies, dominant beliefs, shared assumptions and rules of the game
which underpin them (ORiordan and Jordan, 1996, p.78). We need to analyse operations
within policy networks and dynamic interaction with outsider actors and coalitions in
order to understand better why some actors will be able to influence UWWTD interpretation,
and consequently policy outputs, and not others. Here we might expect actors with
resources important to UWWTD implementation to be most influential.
The structure of the paper tests this argument by broadly mirroring the
approach suggested and assessing its explanatory adequacy; that is it takes a
progressively wider survey of events surrounding UWWTD implementation. Empirical analysis
begins by setting the national scene for implementation analysis. The English and Welsh
water sector was privatised in 1989, and the evolution of a post-privatisation landscape
was contemporary to UWWTD implementation. The section after that introduces the UWWTD in
greater detail and applies a fit approach to implementation analysis in order to assess
what can and cannot be explained this way. The adaptive pressure exerted by UWWTD
objectives is assessed, and the administrative response is discussed (which was the
creation of an Implementation Group by the DoE). In other words, these empirical sections
test the fit approach to implementation analysis (see above). Subsequent analysis tests
the alternative hypothesis developed above, i.e. that interpretation of Directive
requirement and implementation outputs are shaped by the dynamics of the domestic water
policy network under pressure from actors orbiting that network and responding to past
events. The conclusion considers to what extent this wider approach enriches our
understanding of UWWTD implementation in England and Wales.
The English and Welsh water sector
Privatisation, whatever the underlying complex of motivations (see
Maloney and Richardson, 1995; Meredith, 1992, p.73), was marketed by government as the
philosophers stone which could turn all the industrys woes into successes.
Private sector investment would be released and improve the infrastructure. This would be
good for customers since private sector efficiency would ensure no concomitant increase in
water charges (DoE, 1989). The initial reality failed to match the rhetoric. Charges were
fixed by government in August 1989. They generously allowed for an average 5.5% real
increase over the years 1989-94, and 5% for the period 1995-2000. This would fund £24.5
billion investment over the ten year period, including environmental quality obligations.
A study commissioned by the Department of the Environment (DoE), when
the UWWTD was still a draft Directive in Brussels, anticipated UWWTD costs at £1.5
billion (House of Commons Environment Select Committee, HOCESC, 1990, p.xliii). The
industry trade association, the Water Services Association, put it closer to £2.3
billion. Curiously, both estimates focused solely on coastal discharges. The assumption
was that the UWWTD did not pose a challenge to inland STWs since these already treated to
secondary levels and would pass muster (Sharp, 1998, p.46). It was the coastal
discharges that were under more immediate pressure from Europe, in the guise of legal
action to implement the Bathing Waters Directive more robustly and criticism at North Sea
conferences, and from domestic environmental NGOs (Jordan and Greenaway, 1998). Ministers
were responding to these political pressures, and the £1.5 billion price tag appeared
affordable in the context of the privatisation investment programme (Sharp, 1998, pp.
The post-privatisation policy landscape evolved concurrently with UWWTD
implementation. To prevent monopoly abuse by the ten regional water companies, a framework
for economic and environmental regulation was created at privatisation. The Office of
Water Services (OFWAT) was created for the independent economic regulation of the
industry. OFWAT does this principally by regulating the charges each water company makes
to customers. The National Rivers Authority (NRA) was created to administer environmental
regulation, by issuing discharge consents, monitoring performance and enforcing
compliance. It was replaced in 1996 by the Environment Agency (EA) - which incorporated
the NRA and continued to operate along those lines. UWWTD implementation took place
against this backdrop. The pattern of UWWTD implementation can be characterised as passing
through two phases, which are analysed in the rest of this paper:
- A minimalist implementation strategy, once the scale and cost of necessary improvements
In 1993, during the first review of regulated water charges, the
government sought to control escalating costs by limiting coastal treatment in as many
cases as possible (through widespread less sensitive area designation) and by
minimising higher treatment inland with restricted designation of sensitive
- A revised approach which was more precautionary and uniform.
In 1998, during the second review of regulated water charges, the
government tightened implementation of the UWWTD (by scrapping less sensitive
areas - consequently requiring improved treatment of coastal discharges) and
increasing sensitive area designations.
The changed approach suggests fit is pliable Directive
requirement can be reinterpreted, its demands are up for negotiation. What influenced the
changed approach to UWWTD implementation? Subsequent sections explain this pattern of
implementation. The account below is based upon corroborative analysis of primary and
secondary documents and 29 elite interviews (e.g. people from water companies, economic
and environmental regulators, government civil servants, environmental NGOs, trade
associations, and wastewater equipment suppliers).
The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive
The UWWTD is one of the more expensive pieces of European environmental
legislation to reach UK shores and riverbanks. Reporting to the Commission in 1998, the UK
government estimated total costs over the period 1993 to 2005 to be £8.9 billion (CEC,
1999, p.22). This is equivalent to £245 for every citizen of working age (16-65),
although the revenue has ultimately come through household water charges. It contrasts
with the original 1990 estimate of £1.5 billion. The struggle to contain escalating costs
is an important component in explaining UWWTD implementation. High UWWTD costs have been
influential in other Member States too. In Germany, high costs (especially in the new Lšnder
where infrastructure is poor) have catalysed ongoing debates about the desirability of
allowing the private sector to provide water services (Hansen, Kahlenborn and Kraemer,
1999). However, the English and Welsh case study presented here suggests narrow
assumptions about capturing supposed private sector efficiencies ought to be treated very
Essentially, the UWWTD sets a timetable for meeting certain standards
of discharge from sewage treatment works (STWs) - depending upon the population served by
the STW, and the type of receiving water into which it discharges. The Directive
distinguishes between three types of receiving water which, in terms of diminishing
stringency of discharge limit, are Sensitive Areas (SA), Normal Areas (NA), and Less
Sensitive Areas (LSA) (see Box 1 and Figure 1). The UWWTD requires these limits to be met
using broad classes of treatment technology. The lowest limits can be met using primary
treatment (physical settlement of contaminants), higher limits require secondary treatment
(biological decontamination), and the highest limits need nutrient removal (tertiary)
Box 1: statutory requirements and timetable under the UWWTD.
By the end of 1998
- All STWs greater than 10,000 population equivalent (p.e.) and discharging into Sensitive
Areas to use advanced treatment to the following standards:
(a) Total phosphorous less than 2 mg/l (for 10,000 to 100,000 p.e.) and
less than 1 mg/l (for p.e.>100,000), or an 80% reduction in total phosphorous;
(b) Total nitrogen less than 15 mg/l (for 10,000 to 100,000 p.e.) and
less than 10 mg/l (for p.e.>100,000), or a 70-80% reduction in total nitrogen.
- All dumping of sewage sludge at sea to cease.
By the end of 2000
- All STWs greater than 15,000 p.e. and discharging to Normal Areas to use secondary
treatment to the following standards:
(a) Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) less than 25 mg/l or a 70-90%
reduction in BOD;
(b) Chemical oxygen demand (COD) less than 125 mg/l or a 75% reduction
(c) Total suspended solids (SS) less than 35 mg/l (for p.e.>10,000)
and less than 60 mg/l (for p.e. between 2,000 and 10,000), or a 90% reduction in SS (for
p.e.>10,000) and a 70% reduction in SS (for p.e. between 2,000 and 10,000).
- All STWs greater than 15,000 p.e. and discharging to Less Sensitive Areas to use primary
treatment and need not meet standards as stringent as for discharges to Normal Areas,
provided primary treatment only does not adversely effect the environment.
By the end of 2005
- All STWs less than 10,000 p.e. and discharging to Sensitive Areas to use secondary or
- All STWs less than 15,000 p.e. and discharging to Normal Areas to use secondary or
appropriate treatment to meet BOD, COD and SS standards elaborated above.
- All STWs less than 15,000 p.e. and discharging to Less Sensitive Areas to use primary or
appropriate treatment, provided treatment does not adversely effect the environment.
The Directive also has a general requirement for all sewage collection
systems (including Combined Sewer Overflows) to be designed, operated and maintained using
the best technical knowledge available not entailing excessive cost.
The fit orientation suggests UWWTD implementation in England and Wales
can be understood by assessing how the above demands match up to national administrative
tradition. At face value, the UWWTD has relatively clear and precise objectives and leaves
little flexibility over application. Its basic nature is a hierarchical, uniform emission
standards approach within broad classes of discharge. That is, discharge standards
are written into the Directive and serve as its point of departure. This is in contrast to
the discretionary, environmental quality based approach traditionally practised in England
and Wales (Hawkins, 1984; Maloney and Richardson, 1994; Haigh, 1989, p.22). This
contrasting approach takes the receiving environment as its point of departure and
is flexible over requisite discharge limits (NRA, 1994). The poor fit between UWWTD and
national administrative tradition implies strong adaptive pressure would be
generated during implementation. However, the Directive is vague on criteria for
classifying receiving waters as SA, NA or LSA. It is left to Member States to set criteria
for whether a receiving water is eutrophic (and therefore sensitive) or highly dispersive
(and therefore less sensitive). Such discretion opens implementation to some of the
bottom-up influences identified earlier. In England and Wales, this discretion has proved
an important bargaining space during implementation. Costs have dominated debates. The two
issues are connected in the sense that the type of receiving water sets the level of
treatment needed, and this has obvious consequences for costs (see later).
Water infrastructure had suffered chronic underinvestment in the public
sector, which plummeted from a high of around £950 million in 1973-74 (in 1986 prices,
which is £1.5 billion in 1998 prices) to less than one third that level by the early
1980s, where it stayed until privatisation in 1989 (DoE, 1986). Unsurprisingly,
underinvestment created performance problems for the wastewater treatment system. Since
the 1950s, the water industry had, ostensibly, been designing and operating STWs to meet
guidelines similar to standards required under the UWWTD (Cooper, 1998) (Box 1): all but
the smallest inland STWs were practising some form of secondary treatment. In practice,
however, many freshwater consents at privatisation did not include numeric standards, and
a significant number of the works which did were failing their consent conditions (see
Table 1) and/or had limits in excess of those in the UWWTD: 75% of works for suspended
solids, and 61% for biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) (NRA, 1990). At coastal discharges
there was little wastewater treatment prior to UWWTD implementation.
Table 1: percentage non-compliant discharges relative to total consented.
Source: Environment Agency (1998, p.47)
The UWWTD was consequently pressing for improvements in a number of
areas, though the magnitude of change was not fully known at the time of signing (Sharp,
- poorly performing freshwater discharges (over 600 cases (HOCESC, 1998, p.xii));
- freshwater discharges to sensitive areas (a designation new to England and Wales);
- coastal and estuarine discharges (68% of the 404 discharges serving conurbations greater
than 10,000 p.e. received no or only preliminary treatment (ENDS, 1990));
- improvements to 7000 unsatisfactory combined sewer overflows (CSOs); and
- a ban on dumping sludge at sea after 1998.
Poor fit extended to the state of English and Welsh infrastructure as
well as approaches to regulating its performance and prioritising improvements. The UWWTD
presented considerable demands and contrasted with the national administrative tradition.
Sadly, we can surmise little more from this exploration of fit other than expecting
ineffective implementation due to high adaptive pressure. This view suggests UWWTD outputs
will be influenced by the discretionary, environmental quality-based tradition in England
and Wales, such that improvements in infrastructure will be incomplete and not completely
meet Directive ambitions. However, even this view is problematic because it assumes fit is
somehow preordained. The fuzziness around LSA, NA and SA derogations is an instance in
which the Directive contains a degree of elasticity - their practical meaning is open to
negotiation in Member States. Fit alone seems to provide an incomplete explanation of the
precise geometry of UWWTD outputs and the influences shaping them. It cannot explain
completely the decisions over LSAs and SAs.
Administrative change: the UWWTD Implementation Group
The DoE convened a technocratic, quadripartite group to oversee UWWTD
implementation that included the new regulators OFWAT and NRA/EA. The group also included
the water industry trade association, and had the task of negotiating how terms and
requirements in the UWWTD would be translated into operational criteria and procedures.
Technical, multi-party groups such as these are a common DoE mechanism for implementing
Directives. Guidelines were issued to water companies and local NRA offices so that
environmental managers and inspectors could implement UWWTD tasks consistently, through
the review of existing discharge consents. The guidance had no statutory force, so a
degree of consensus amongst all parties was essential if it was to become operational.
In some respects, the Implementation Group can be understood as an
attempt by the DoE to forge an implementation chain. Whilst negotiating consensus
interpretations of Directive terms was at times highly charged, the objective was
nevertheless to manage implementation tasks by ensuring all administrative changes were
agreed and relevant actors coordinated their efforts. On first inspection, the
Implementation Group appears to be the location where adaptation to the Directive was
negotiated. However, the Group did not take the decisions over LSA and SA designations. It
was during the episodes of economic regulatory review beyond the realms of the
Implementation Group - that these important parameters for interpreting the UWWTD were
really set. Economic regulatory reviews fixed the parameters for water policy generally,
of which UWWTD implementation was a significant part.
How were decisions reached on whether to utilise LSA derogations and
classify SAs? The precise requirements of the UWWTD (i.e. how it fitted into the national
scene) were not immediately obvious, and needed clarification by DoE for the purposes of
economic regulation (see below). These were important decisions that had widespread
effects on UWWTD outputs across the sector. The quadripartite Implementation Group agreed
technical routines for meeting various UWWTD requirements, but it was government guidance
which decided whether to activate those requirements or not. Negotiations in the
Implementation Group cannot explain the shifts in this guidance. Can resource
interdependencies and policy beliefs in a wider post-privatisation policy network explain
government guidance (and UWWTD outputs), as our second hyptohesis suggested? Theoretical
discussion also pointed to policy beliefs and events beyond the policy network that
influence its operation and hence the pattern of UWWTD implementation. Having illustrated
the limits of a narrow fit approach, it is time to explore the explanatory effectiveness
of this wider perspective. Subsequent sections broaden the analysis, and test the
hypothesis that it is domestic policy beliefs and resource interdependencies that will
explain UWWTD implementation.
Implementing the UWWTD - a broader view
The parameters within which the UWWTD has been implemented (and
Implementation Group guidelines thereby activated) were set by events surrounding the
Periodic Reviews of prices. OFWAT has conducted two Periodic Reviews of regulated water
charges, first in 1994 (AMP 2) and again in 1999 (AMP 3). It is important to note that
negotiating the Periodic Review operated at a more senior level than the technical experts
of the Implementation Group, owing to its significance for water policy more generally.
Nevertheless, deadlines for UWWTD implementation have overlapped with OFWAT periodic price
reviews such that UWWTD improvements have become an important component in investment
plans (see figure 2).
Figure 2: overlap between the UWWTD and
economic regulatory timetables.
Ultimately, it was the water companies who held the organisational and
financial resources to make necessary UWWTD improvements. Each Periodic Review anticipates
the investment they require over the coming ten years. At the same time, OFWAT is keen to
ensure water prices are kept as low as possible for customers, and so has an interest in
ensuring the necessary investments will be made efficiently. It is supported in this
cost-averse policy belief by consumer representative groups, such as the ten regional
Customer Service Committees, which advise OFWAT through its National Customer Council
(ONCC, 1998; Reiter, 1998). This positions OFWAT as an important player in the shaping of
water quality strategies (Rees and Williams, 1993).
The first Periodic Review: setting the parameters for UWWTD
The first Periodic Review in 1994 sparked a panic over the cost of the
UWWTD, which seemed to be spiralling well beyond the initial £1.5-2.3 billion estimates.
The revised estimates, though contested, were nevertheless on a rising trend. A cost
containment strategy sought a minimalist interpretation of UWWTD demands. The NRA/EA then
went about its implementation task (i.e. revising discharge consents) within these
minimalist parameters, following the relevant guidelines drawn up by the technical
OFWATs 1992 projection for the UWWTD was a qualified £6 billion:
At an early stage of planning margins of error are wide. Previous experience
suggests that costs are more likely to increase than decrease. Margins of error will tend
to be skewed; final costs could easily be half as much again or above those in this
paper (OFWAT, 1992, p.13). In July 1993, the Director General of OFWAT, Ian Byatt,
told Ministers he needed clear guidance from them on the new [environmental]
obligations that companies are likely to face and the time scales for achieving them. When
these obligations are established I have a legal duty to ensure that they can be
financed (OFWAT, 1993, p.4). Here we have an explicit example of a national policy
actor for whom officially sanctioned UWWTD requirements are far from obvious. In making
this call, Byatt presented revised estimates for his interpretation of UWWTD demands,
whose broad totals are sufficiently robust for decisions to be taken on the scale of
new obligations (1993, p.4). OFWAT now thought the UWWTD would cost £10 billion.
One of Byatts stated objectives for the Review was to protect
customers from excessive price rises (OFWAT, 1992, p.7), which had been increasing in real
terms by 5% each year. Every £1 billion capital expenditure added around £3 a year to
average household water charges; and every £100 million in operating costs had the same
effect (OFWAT, 1993, p.16). Whilst Byatt sought UWWTD guidance from Ministers, he remained
very mindful of impacts on customer water charges and was at pains to advance the
cost-averse policy belief:
I believe that the Secretaries of State should consider going as far as
renegotiation of European standards, where obligations, and particularly the speed of
their implementation, place an unmanageable burden on customers. In interpreting EC
Directives I believe that account should always be taken of the impact on customers
bills, in order to achieve the most timely and cost effective solutions (OFWAT,
Rising UWWTD estimates were a device for alerting high-level political
interest in household water charges and recruiting political and authority resources to
the cause of cost-averse policy beliefs.
Meanwhile, an ad hoc programme of freshwater STW consent reviews had
begun after privatisation, as part of plans for meeting river quality objectives drawn up
by the NRA, which was keen to promote an image as guardian of the water
environment (NRA, 1995). Area offices of the successor EA have been introducing
UWWTD requirements into this broader review of STW consents. However, river quality
objectives are not statutory requirements, nor is there an improvement timetable, and this
limits the force with which the NRA/EA can demand STW improvements. Only statutory limits,
such as those under the UWWTD, or objectives with explicit government backing can be
really pressed, since it is these that are recognised under the economic framework and are
incorporated into investment plans and price controls.
The NRA thus had an incentive to maximise requirements interpreted
under the UWWTD since these are, an admittedly blunt, means to higher river quality
objectives. OFWAT, conscious of the effect on water prices of any environmental
investment, sought to limit the NRAs demands upon water companies only to those
objectives required by statute, which should be based upon strict cost-benefit
considerations (OFWAT, 1993, p.13). The two regulators thus have different interests and
hold contrasting policy beliefs.
So drawing the boundary between which environmental improvements could
and could not be legitimately demanded under the UWWTD concerned both the NRA and OFWAT.
In effect, the authority resources of the NRA were limited by what were deemed legitimate
and fundable improvements under the economic framework. Yet the identification of
necessary improvements, needed by OFWAT for cost estimates, would be done by the NRA.
There is a structure of resource interdependency here that requires agreement over
objectives, including common interpretation of UWWTD requirements. Striking the balance
between the maximalist environment regulator and the minimalist economic regulator was the
DoE (since 1997, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR)) (see
figure 3). The DoE was still learning how best to perform this role as regulator of
regulators during UWWTD implementation (DoE, 1991, p.10). A nascent post-privatisation
policy network closer to the issue network end of the policy network spectrum emerges from
The government had to strike the balance between competing interests in
the water sector. It was also under political pressure from a variety of actors beyond the
policy network over its performance (i.e. the way OFWAT was regulating prices and the
effectiveness with which the NRA was delivering improvements) (figure 4).
Greater transparency under the post-privatisation policy landscape had
made it easier for outsider groups to monitor the sector and have a voice (Maloney and
Richardson, 1995, p.160). This made the post-privatisation policy network that much more
susceptible to outsider intervention (another characteristic of issue networks).
Environmental NGOs, Parliamentary Select Committees, local communities, and consumer
groups were all transmitting their policy beliefs to government, which had to decide how
best to guide UWWTD implementation (as well as water policy more generally). As we shall
see, these policy beliefs essentially amplified and extended those held by OFWAT and the
EA. That is, they fell into two broad camps: a cost-averse policy belief; and an
environment-oriented policy belief.
Growing unease over two aspects of water company performance were vying
for government attention. There were continued campaigns against their environmental
performance by groups like Friends of the Earth and the newly created, and highly media
effective, Surfers Against Sewage. Nothing short of full tertiary treatment would be
sufficient for these groups (SAS, 1992, pp.17-18). In addition, profits and large
executive pay rises against a backdrop of rising water charges were fuelling public
disquiet about the economic performance of water companies. The South West was a
particular crucible for allegations about profiteering in the context of very steep
increases in water charges. Opposition M.P.s saw political capital in fanning the flames
of discontent, to the alarm of sitting Conservative M.P.s (House of Commons Debates, 31st
March 1994, Vol.240, Col.1093; ENDS, 1994, p.6; Summerton, 1998, p.62).
OFWATs alarming conclusions over UWWTD costs coupled with
Parliamentary disquiet were sufficient to draw Treasury and even Prime Ministerial
intervention - neither renowned for a keen interest in water policy. Both applied pressure
for UWWTD implementation to be managed as cost-effectively as possible (House
of Commons Debates, 21st June 1994, Vol.245, Col.122). Cost control became paramount and
followed two paths: one led to Europe, the other pressed high-level political concerns
upon domestic UWWTD interpretation. The European strategy sent senior DoE civil servants
to their counterparts in other Member States to explore the possibility of revising
the deadlines and other requirements of the UWWT directive: this has required
time-consuming discussions at a senior level in Brussels and other European capitals
(DoE, 1994, p.7). The Chancellor, Ken Clarke, brought the Treasury into the fray and
exhorted other EC Finance Ministers to back the UK in revising the UWWTD (ENDS, 1993,
p.16). Unfortunately for the government, these discussions with European counterparts did
not bear fruit, even though Germany has subsequently made similar noises.
The second cost mitigation path was to take full advantage of LSA
derogations, which the government termed High Natural Dispersion Areas, whilst a more
cautious approach was taken over the designation of SAs (DoE, 1993, p.7). This minimalist
implementation strategy was conveyed to regulators in DoE guidance (DoE, 1993, p.9). Long
stretches of the UK coastline were designated under 58 LSAs in May 1994 (DoE, 1994b).
Improvements to 6000 failing CSOs were staggered over twenty years. As for SAs, 20 SAs
were designated and decisions on a further 29 (which had been recommended by the NRA) were
deferred by government and subject to further monitoring (DoE, 1994b). The number of
coastal discharges needing to invest in secondary treatment would thus be held in check,
and nutrient removal from freshwater discharges likewise (Haddon, 1998, p.16). This
designation contrasts with Nature Conservancy Council and English Nature studies, which
found a far higher incidence of eutrophic waters effected by sewage (ENDS, 1992, p.36;
Haigh, 1998, 4.6-9).
The minimalist approach was not unique to UWWTD guidance and, in
retrospect, not that surprising. The government had been similarly lacklustre in its
approach to designating beaches under the Bathing Waters Directive and fisheries under the
Shellfish Waters Directive earlier in the 1980s. The government was more likely to be
sympathetic to the cost-averse camp than the environment-oriented demands, particularly
when it became apparent that the UWWTD would be more expensive than expected. As soon as
costs started to rise, all the signs of the positive response to environmental pressure
that had led to the government signing the UWWTD in 1991 simply disappeared. OFWAT and not
the NRA got the guidance it wanted with the favourable deployment of government authority
resources - even though the legitimating effect of the environmental-quality based
tradition (i.e. dilute and disperse) was by now wearing thin.
The final outcome of the Periodic Review anticipated costs for the
Directive to be £6 billion over the following ten years (OFWAT, 1994). This is a similar
level of investment to that in France, where implementation has been far less
controversial, perhaps because the vast majority of funds came from general taxation
rather than sharply escalating water charges (Jordan, Ward and Buller, 1998, pp.1490 &
1403). With planned costs in check in England and Wales, real increases in water charges
(the K factor) were limited on average to 1.5% each year. UWWTD implementation had taken
its first twist.
The first Periodic Review taught the economic and environmental
regulators some important lessons about the pliable nature of UWWTD demands. The two
regulators also learnt that the government was an important holder of the ring. The NRA
concluded it would have to make strong representation to government in the
future if it was to meet environmental quality ambitions (NRA, 1994b, p.14; ENDS, 1994,
p.6). OFWAT was determined to seek cuts in water charges in the second Periodic Review
five years hence.
Explanation of this phase of UWWTD implementation certainly appears to
benefit from a wider analytical perspective. The machinations of the post-privatisation
policy network, particularly economic and environmental regulatory interaction, forced
cost considerations upon the government. A lack of cohesion and the nature of
interdependencies in the policy network facilitated the intervention of government, who
did so with terms attached. Actors and events beyond the policy network sought to
influence government guidance over UWWTD interpretations. Some actors were directly
interested (e.g. English Nature) whilst others had more diffuse concerns which fuelled the
decision-making climate indirectly (e.g. opposition M.P.s). The historically stronger
cost-averse policy belief remained more influential than the environment-oriented policy
belief. The use of LSA derogations and restrictive SA criteria reflects this lack of
environmental willingness at the top. The legitimating persistence of UK quality-based
regulatory traditions might have made this approach palatable to the NRA had the financial
savings been redirected to other river quality objectives, but they were not. Second time
around the economic regulatory cycle the environmental regulator would press for tighter
The significant point arising from this episode is how, with both the
unsuccessful attempt by government to go back to Europe and seek modifications to the
UWWTD, and with a minimalist interpretation of the existing requirements, government
actively sought to manage Directive requirement in a highly political implementation
The second Periodic Review: a more precautionary approach
Although details of many of the subsequent implementation tasks were
done by the NRA and water companies away from the public gaze, the outputs were not
without controversy. There was concern over two LSA decisions in particular (in the
Bristol Channel and the Humber Estuary) and continued pressure from environmentalists for
higher levels of treatment for coastal discharges in general. The political saliency of
these issues generated conflicts that were to shape the second Periodic Review, launched
in 1997. Stoking the politics over environmental quality were continuing profit levels in
the industry, perceived to be excessive by critics (including the opposition Labour
Party). Interdependencies between the economic and environmental regulatory frameworks
brought the environment-cost debate sharply into focus, which influenced the second shift
in UWWTD goalposts.
The Environmental Debate
Controversy over LSAs detonated when Environment Secretary John Gummer
set the boundaries for estuarine and coastal waters in the Humber and the Bristol Channel.
He chose them such that two large discharges (from Hull and Bristol) fell on the
favourable, minimalist side of the boundary, where coastal LSA status suggested they would
not require secondary treatment. The boundaries chosen in these cases - road-bridges
across the stretch of water - were inconsistent with the hydrological boundary criteria
used for all other estuaries. Local authorities challenged the decision, and the
government found itself in the High Court. The Court judged that the government had failed
to apply a genuine and rational assessment and it was bending UWWTD
interpretation too far (ENDS, 1996). This decision did not cast the minimalist approach in
a favourable light - its legitimacy was undermined. It also added £120 million worth of
secondary treatment (and £5 million annual operating costs) to the Hull and Bristol
Even if all Comprehensive Studies showed that primary treatment for
discharges into LSAs was sufficient, it did not absolve all coastal discharges from more
costly secondary treatment. Bathing water quality standards were requiring some companies,
but by no means all, to install secondary treatment at relevant STWs. In a few cases,
water companies were also experiencing trenchant local and environmentalist criticism of
plans which limited upgrades to primary treatment. With the encouragement of high media
profile campaigns from SAS, groups in some areas were even demanding the installation of
tertiary treatment, such as UV disinfection. One such location was Aberystwyth, where
Welsh Water faced sustained opposition. Nor was the company particularly confident that
LSA status would hold forever. Local difficulties and doubts prompted a more precautionary
interpretation of the UWWTD in this particular case, and to look at the costs and
feasibility of UV disinfection. They concluded that full-treatment was an affordable
option and they decided to install UV (Gibson, 1992).
By breaking rank the company had set a practical precedent that won
valuable public support from SAS and other non-network members, and boosted their
environment-oriented arguments. If Welsh Water could afford to invest beyond statutory
compliance (i.e. primary treatment), then why couldnt the other water companies? In
time, a few others did commit to full-treatment at some STWs (Haddon, 1997, p.17; SAS,
1998, p.11). Environment-oriented policy beliefs were boosted further with the recruitment
of the House of Commons Environment Select Committee (HOCESC) in February 1998, just as
the debate over OFWATs second Periodic Review of prices was getting into full swing
(see below). HOCESC recommended all sewage should be treated to tertiary level at all
times and in all places (HOCESC, 1998, pp.lxxii-lxxiii).
This pressure for higher treatment was beginning to bite, and the newly
elected Labour government (May 1997) responded to HOCESC with a partial revision to the
UWWTD approach. Comprehensive Studies for 12 coastal discharges had failed to demonstrate
that primary treatment was sufficient and, with encouragement from the EA, the government
decided to revoke LSA status at 21 of the 58 LSAs. The government hinted that more might
follow, stating that it also wishes to consider very carefully whether,
notwithstanding the scientific evidence offered by the comprehensive studies, a
precautionary approach should dictate that secondary treatment should always be
required for significant coastal discharges (DETR, 1998, p.5, emphasis added).
The government decision did not meet all environment-oriented demands,
but it nevertheless significantly modified the fit between UWWTD and national
administration. Moreover, in the same response the government announced the designation of
a further 47 SAs. A degree of uncertainty over future UWWTD demands had been introduced.
However, advances in environment-oriented argument beyond the policy network provides only
a partial explanation for the governments stricter reinterpretation of the UWWTD.
The new government remained conscious of cost and political implications; so why had they
decided upon tougher UWWTD steps where their predecessor had feared to tread? Unlike their
predecessor, the new government had the benefit of hindsight over outputs from the first
Periodic Review, which had done little to dampen a continued debate about profiteering in
The Profitability Debate
Water charges continued to rise after 1994, as allowed under the first
Periodic Review. In 1986-87 average household water and sewage charges had been around
£145 (in 1998 prices) (HOCESC, 1987, p.459; OFWAT, 1992, p.9). By 1998-99 they were just
under £250 (OFWAT, 1998, p.24). Some of the revenue from this 72% real increase in prices
was funding UWWTD implementation. However, the revenue was also generating profits
perceived by critics as excessive. Within a year of the first Periodic Review water
companies had announced share buy-backs and dividends totalling £1.5 billion (ENDS,
1997), and over £1 billion of dividends were paid out each year from 1994 to 1998 (OFWAT,
1997b, p.26). A greedy public image problem was exacerbated by fat cat pay rises to senior
managers (Daily Telegraph, 21/12/94; Summerton, 1998, p.61).
In opposition, the Labour Party had milked public dissatisfaction over
water profits for all its political worth. Utility companies were a soft and popular
political target. In government, Labour introduced a one-off windfall tax on the
privatised utilities, including £1.1 billion from the water companies, which would fund
their youth training programme the New Deal for the Unemployed (Labour Party, 1997,
p.19). Moreover, environment portfolios were the domain of John Prescott and Michael
Meacher - both from the traditional left and unlikely to take so sympathetic a line with
The scale of profit making suggested OFWAT had miscalculated the first
Periodic Review (Summerton, 1998, p.63). Regulation of prices is intended to provide
incentives for (financial) efficiency and innovation, since any cost savings beneath fixed
prices count towards enhanced profits for the companies (OFWAT, 1997). In practice, the
water companies also have an incentive to inflate their planned capital expenditure and
exaggerate their operating costs such that OFWAT sets a generously high price limit in the
first place - a profit boosting tendency termed gold plating in the industry
(Helm, 1994, p.21). OFWAT, dependent upon industry information, had anticipated operating
expenditure rising by 3% over the AMP2 period - in the event it fell by 12%. Capital cost
savings on STW upgrades were 30-40% greater than expected (ENDS, 1999, p.42; OFWAT, 1998b,
p.16). If all UWWTD related work could achieve this efficiency then the £6 billion
capital expenditure allowed in AMP2 would actually cost the companies £3.6-4.2 billion.
Clearly, the UWWTD was not costing the amounts allowed under AMP2. Hindsight indicated
there was financial room for tighter UWWTD implementation, or cuts in water charges to
customers, or both. It was this issue of distributing benefits that became the focus for
the second Periodic Review, launched in June 1997.
Policy actors were pressing points or disseminating interpretations of
information which, they hoped, would reinforce the dominant cost-averse policy belief or
see it replaced by an environment-oriented belief. This applied to water policy in
general, not simply to the UWWTD, yet clearly whichever view prevailed amongst Ministers
would set guidance on the latter issued under the second Periodic Review.
Moving the UWWTD Implementation Goalposts
At times the Review was acrimonious, with both OFWAT and the EA making
public declarations about their priorities, pointing to what they believed to be
weaknesses in the others analysis, and actively lobbying the government (EA, 1998;
OFWAT, 1998c; ENDS, 1998). As with the first Periodic Review, it was the government that
would effectively strike the balance between environmental quality and customer water
charges, since it was they who would guide OFWAT and the EA on the UWWTD investments
deemed to be necessary over the coming AMP3 period.
Early in 1998 the industry trade association, DETR, the EA and the
National Customer Council all conducted polls to measure public opinion about water
charges and the environment. It is not the precise outcomes of these polls that is
important here: they were all framed differently, used varying sample sizes (from 48 to
2489), and asked different questions. What is significant is the fact that the opinion
polling exercises took place. It reveals the political nature of the Periodic Review and
that policy actors realised the significance of impressing upon the government a certain
view of what was in the public interest. The economic and environmental
regulators spent the summer of 1998 jostling for positions of influence over the
forthcoming guidance, as did network non-members.
The government finally issued guidance to OFWAT in September 1998. It
went even further than their response to the HOCESC inquiry the previous year. They
decided to take the more precautionary approach by revoking all LSAs and requiring
secondary treatment for all significant coastal discharges (DETR, 1998b, p.19). The CSO
programme was accelerated (DETR, 1998, p.21). These requests formed part of a package of
environmental investments which, given evidence from the profitability debate, the
government believed could be met without price rises (DETR, 1998b, p.3).
The Periodic Review continued and price cuts were announced by OFWAT in
November 1999. However, the impact of the Review, so far as implementation of the UWWTD
was concerned, had already been felt. The resource interdependencies remained the same in
this second Periodic Review as they had been in the first. However, this time around the
wider politics were different. Not only was there a new government, but events in the
interim had belied some of the water industry and OFWAT cost projections and strengthened
the position of their opponents. Emboldened by past efficiencies, the government felt it
feasible to tighten interpretation of UWWTD requirements. It was in the fortunate position
of being able to answer some of the environment-oriented demands without upsetting
cost-averse policy beliefs. This explains why the fit between the UWWTD and domestic
practice passed through a second configuration, with obvious consequences for outputs.
Thus the latest reinterpretation of UWWTD requirements has further advanced the
performance of the English and Welsh wastewater infrastructure. The experience of this
ratcheting implementation process suggests a few more twists and turns in the future. It
also shows that England and Wales has not performed particularly well over the UWWTD, in
the sense that households have paid more than was necessary for treatment that still falls
short of the best available. This environmental performance lags behind the Netherlands
and Germany, where tertiary treatment is being installed as the norm, and reflects the
mid-league position of Britain in relation to European environmental policies generally
(Lowe and Ward, 1998).
Discussion and conclusions
The fit between the requirements in a Directive and Member State
administrative tradition provides policy analysts with an approximate measure of adaptive
pressure. The fit approach hypothesises that the greater this pressure the less effective
implementation is likely to be. This paper has sought to argue, theoretically and through
empirical application, that this fails to explain the post-decisional politics
that shapes implementation outputs and outcomes (Puchala, 1975, cited in Jordan, Ward and
Buller, 1998, p.1389). Precise requirements in the UWWTD have been shown to be far from
obvious at the outset - contrary to what is implied in the fit perspective. Indeed UWWTD
requirements have been subject to intense political debate in England and Wales. Fit is
pliable, not preordained. In this respect, UWWTD implementation in England and Wales has
been a particular instance of a more general fight over domestic water policy priorities.
Moreover, whilst it is true that the modus operandi for the UWWTD contrasted with
traditional practice in England and Wales, recognition of this fact tells us little about
the way each has mutually adjusted to the other.
It has been a contention of this paper that such mutual adjustment, and
the policy outputs this process generates, can be explained through the operation of
domestic water policy networks and the influence of wider events upon them. An alternative
hypothesis to that of fit was proposed. Namely, that resource interdependencies would draw
different policy actors into the implementation process, and that the dominant policy
belief would colour the interpretation of those Directive requirements over which there
was discretion. In England and Wales resource interdependencies brought a number of actors
into the fray over UWWTD, but there was little cohesion between them. Nevertheless, it is
the resource interdependencies between OFWAT, the EA , the water companies and government
that explain the involvement of each. A policy network approach to analysis does seem at
least partially beneficial.
Implementation of the UWWTD was debated by an issue network that needed
government intervention in order to fix Directive requirement. In turn, the government has
been mindful of the political pressures upon it, be they cost-averse or
environment-oriented policy beliefs. Explaining government guidance has required an
analysis of the way these competing policy beliefs have garnered influence or lost it.
Events beyond the immediate interactions between economic and environmental regulators add
to the explanation of UWWTD implementation. There is also evidence of policy learning with
the outcomes of past Directive interpretation informing revised government guidance (see
also Barrett and Fudge, 1981, pp.24-29). The environment-oriented policy belief became
influential once it became apparent to government that the formers objectives could
be met (at least partially) without upsetting more entrenched cost-averse policy beliefs.
It seems fair then to conclude that in cases where an issue network is
responsible for Directive implementation its requirements will be susceptible to
reinterpretation, owing to its penetrability, and that outputs will shift under events and
activities beyond the immediate implementation tasks. This is different to simply saying
implementation will be ineffective, since throughout the English and Welsh UWWTD
experience implementation has conformed with the Directive (apart from Bristol and Hull
exceptions). It is the official understanding of what conformance requires, and hence performance,
that has changed. In England and Wales that understanding has been highly contested
compared to the situation in countries with cohesive policy networks such as the
Netherlands, or France (Jordan, Ward and Buller, 1998, p.1404). The way Member States
understand and perform against a Directive will reflect the operation of their policy
networks and how these mediate domestic political concerns.
Many thanks to Andrew Jordan and two anonymous referees for helpful
comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Thanks also to the editors for their prompt
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