The Parliamentary Information Office of the Parliamentary Yearbook is currently gathering news items for major features on the effects of climate change in the next edition and has been monitoring response to the Natural Environment White Paper and the Government’s draft Bill, “Water for Life”
In the Queen’s Speech on 9th May it was announced that a draft Bill will be published to reform the water industry in England and Wales.
The draft Bill, Water for Life, describes a vision for future water management in which the water sector is resilient, in which water companies are more efficient and customer focused and in which water is valued as the precious and finite resource it is. And it explains that we all have a part to play in the realisation of this vision.
The Key reforms proposed were:
- Over the long-term the introduction of a reformed water abstraction regime, as signalled in the Natural Environment White Paper earlier in the year
- Changes that can be made now to deal with the legacy of over-abstraction of our rivers
- The re-affirmation of the Government’s new catchment approach to dealing with water quality and wider environmental issues
- The removal of barriers to the greater trading of abstraction licences and bulk supplies of water to make our supply system more flexible
- With the Environment Agency and Ofwat, the provision of clearer guidance to water companies on planning for the long-term, and keeping demand down
- Consultation on the introduction of national standards and a new planning approval system for sustainable drainage
- Payments to address the historical unfairness of high bills in the South West
- Encouraging water companies to introduce social tariffs to support vulnerable customers
- The introduction of a package of reforms to extend competition in the water sector by increasing choice for business customers and public sector bodies and by making the market more attractive to new entrants
- Collaboration on a campaign to save water and protect the environment, working with water companies, regulators and customers to raise awareness of the connection between how water is used and the quality of our rivers.
Then in a report published yesterday, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee said that Ministers must act with urgency to prepare for a future where water resources in England will come under increasing pressure.
MPs called on the Government to take rapid steps to tackle the environmental damage caused by the over-abstraction of water, and set more ambitious targets to increase levels of metering.
Launching the report, Anne McIntosh MP, EFRA Committee Chair said:
“We heard persuasive evidence about the environmental damage unleashed by over-abstraction. The Government’s current plans – to reform the abstraction regime by the mid-to-late 2020s – will not take effect rapidly enough given that our rivers are already running dry.
“The reform of abstraction licenses must be brought forward to protect against the effect of severe droughts such as the one we saw earlier this year. Defra must also work with Ofwat and the Environment Agency to tackle urgently those abstractions which are already causing severe damage to our rivers.”
The Committee also finds it “extremely disappointing” that the White Paper fails to set a target to increase levels of water metering.
“It’s hard to see how the White Paper’s call for water to be managed as a precious resource can be reconciled with the lack of any clear target to increase metering levels. Installing a meter is the most effective way to improve water efficiency, providing a clear incentive for householders to minimise wastage,” adds Anne McIntosh.
The report highlights how bad debt in the water sector adds around £15 to each household’s water bill every year.
“It is simply unacceptable that hard-pressed yet honest householders are subsidising those who are able but unwilling to pay their water bills. Defra must implement existing legal provisions rapidly to tackle this problem,” says Ms McIntosh.
The Committee also examines proposals to reform the water industry in England to increase competition in the sector. MPs conclude that Defra should set a clear target date for opening a competitive retail market for water, and should take account of lessons that can be learned from Scotland, where retail competition has already been introduced.
“We welcome plans to increase competition in the water industry, although we believe that the White Paper’s proposals for reform will fail to deliver a well-functioning retail market. We suggest how to remedy this and we look forward to examining revised proposals in more detail once the draft Water Bill is published,” adds Anne McIntosh.
The Committee calls on the Government to take action to encourage the development of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), which can reduce the risk of flooding, and to implement the relevant outstanding provisions of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.
MPs also say that it is “deeply worrying” that the Government had not yet reached an agreement with insurers about providing cover for homes in areas of flood risk.
The Parliamentary Information Office of the Parliamentary Year book will continue to report on the progress of the White Paper and the impact on UK water supplies as we go through the months ahead.