Debate offers form and direction for long-term strategy to ensure sustainable water industry

Common ground on some basic elements of a long-term strategy to guide the UK’s water industry towards a sustainable future appears to be forming, reports Malcolm Hallsworth, Editor of the magazine Water and Waste Treatment (WWT).

Panelists at an industry forum in April reached a general consensus that the existing five-yearly review period needed to be complimented by a series of policies and goals extending over a longer time-frame. It was felt the new framework should cover a 25-year period and British government should take a lead in setting-out the direction and aspirations – although they would have no basis in statute.

Speakers at the WWT Round Table 2002 in association with Black & Veatch included environment minister Michael Meacher; Ofwat director general Philip Fletcher; Water UK chief executive Pamela Taylor and Environment Agency chief executive Barbara Young. The Drinking Water Inspectorate, the water industry’s contractors, customers and equipment suppliers were also represented.

Behind the new framework is a need to help the industry cope more effectively with factors which impinge directly upon it, but over which the industry has very limited control. These include European Union environmental policy, the Water Framework Directive in particular; diffuse pollution and climate change.

The 25-year timescale, put forward by Pamela Taylor, was seen by many speakers – including Southern Water managing director Stuart Derwent, Barbara Taylor and Philip Fletcher – as suitable to assess, plan and implement large-scale environmental programmes. In response Michael Meacher agreed that: “the 25-year outlook vision is probably necessary.” Broadly speaking, most panelists felt the lead in setting out the strategic vision had to be political because government was in the best position to engage with the EU and was the only body in a position to put water and what happens within the water industry in a wider environmental context. On this point the minister accepted that “only government can come forward in this way,” adding “it is not as though government is insensitive to this.”

Although the effects of the five-yearly review process upon contractors came in for criticism from David Nickols, managing director of Binnie Black & Veatch, and Paterson Candy’s John Aldridge, none of the speakers envisioned a change in the mechanism. The proposals for a long-term policy framework were seen very much in terms of something which would inform not challenge the Periodic Review process.

The story is published in the May issue of WWT.

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