Government condemned for ‘disappointing’ draft water bill

The Government's draft water bill lacks ambition and the plans are unlikely to provide the necessary changes within an acceptable timescale, according to the latest Westminster Sustainable Business Forum publication.

Talking at the launch of the publication at the House of Commons yesterday evening, the Environment Agency’s (EA) chairman Lord Chris Smith warned that climate change would lead to flooding and drought, making the timing of the new water bill particularly crucial. 

He said: “It looks increasingly likely that the world’s greenhouse gas trajectory won’t start moving downwards soon, and that we’ll be lucky to keep the overall warming effect on the earth to two degrees centigrade.

“Building this realisation into how we prepare for water use and flood protection is going to be crucial.”

However the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Mary Creagh MP, also talking at the launch, said the Government was not doing enough to prevent future flooding in the UK.

“The EA has told us what we need to do. We need to increase spending on our flood defences by an extra £20m a year just to keep up with the changing climate risk. Yet we know that investment in flood defences has fallen from £354m in 2010 to £259m for each of the next four years. That is key diminution,” she said.

Several organisations contributed to the report  including the European Commission, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) and the engineering consultancy Arup.

The publication was drawn up in reaction to the Government’s draft water bill published in July 2012, which took forward some of the concepts from white paper before it.

Since then a number of stakeholders, including the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, have been concerned that proposals in the draft water bill lack ambition and urgency.

Creagh said that while the water white paper was an ambitious document, the draft bill was a “disappointment” and mentioned that leaving the abstraction reform until 2030 was “just not good enough.”

She added that the Green Deal was not focused enough on water efficiency measures and that sustainable urban drainage systems (Suds) needed to be utilised.

“Thanks to labour MPs who amended the Green Deal bill, there will be water efficiency measures in the green deal but I question whether it would have the same scale and reach that the Suds scheme would have for water companies,” she said.

The report contained a collection of ten essays that explore a range of ideas aimed at improving sustainability across the water supply chain.

WWF-UK’s essay called for the introduction of universal water metering and CIWEM’s Justin Taberham concurred recommending:

“The Government should ensure that, in the longer-term, all household customers are metred where practical and innovative water tariffs are introduced that take account of environmental, social and public health needs.”

In addition, Policy Connect director Peter Jones laid out radical plans in his essay to transfer the regulation and ownership of all dirty water treatment in England and Wales to the waste resources sector.

In a separate development following yesterday’s launch, a group of 16 leading environmental organisations published a report voicing their concerns over a lack of Government action on water management reforms. 

Conor McGlone

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