Kent water company gets go-ahead for compulsory meters

A Kent water company today became the first in Britain to be granted "water scarcity status", which gives it the right to install compulsory water meters in households to tackle water shortages.

Folkestone and Dover water services are expecting growing demand and shrinking supplies over the next ten years. They were the first to apply for the status in July 2005, under legislation introduced six years ago.

The landmark ruling makes Folkestone and Dover the only water company in Britain that can install compulsory meters in households, but others are expected to follow.

Environment Minister Elliot Morley said: “Folkestone and Dover will face increasing difficulty over the next 10 years in matching its limited water resources to the growing amount of water used. Metering will have an important role to play in helping to reduce this demand as well as sending a signal about the benefits of water saving.”

Water scarcity in South-East England was highlighted last week when the Environment Agency reported the driest two winters since the 1920s in the region (see related story ). But the move by Folkestone and Dover is part of a longer-term strategy, Elliot Morley said.

Folkestone and Dover estimates that by making its clients pay for the amount of water they use they will cut water use by 10-15%. This will only provide half the margin supply over demand the company needs by 2015, however.

The rest of the saving is expected to come from new sources, minimizing leakage and encouraging water efficiency.

“We must work with water companies, regulators and customer representatives to tackle the long-term challenge of water saving in the South East of England. The Government recognises that water metering can encourage people to use water more wisely – and is also the fairest way to pay for water,” Elliot Morley added.

The Liberal Democrats criticised the Government for its “lack of a co-ordinated strategy”, saying that demand in the region is increased by house building.

“This decision today places another stake at the heart of John Prescott’s plan for a massive expansion of house building in the South East, which has taken almost no account of water supply needs,” said Lib Dem shadow Environment secretary Norman Baker.

Concerns have also been raised over water bills rising.

Louise Every, research fellow at the Institute of Public Policy Research, said: “Issues of water affordability remain and the Government should consider whether England and Wales should follow Northern Ireland and cap water bills at no more than three per cent of income to help low income families.”

Folkestone and Dover Water assure that compulsory metering will not cause bills to increase for at least 70% of its customers.

By Goska Romanowicz

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