In its report on water management, the science and technology committee pointed to a lack of coordination between Government institutions, in particular bringing attention to John Prescott’s housing expansion plans:

“It is regrettable that the ODPM failed sufficiently to consult the water industry directly–or to give due consideration to the water management implications–when formulating the Sustainable Communities Plan and selecting the growth areas,” the report said.

The peers urged Government bodies including the Department for Communities and Local Government (formerly the ODPM), Ofwat and the Environment Agency to work together with water companies and consumers, and to consider water supply early on when planning big developments such as the Thames Gateway.

“We recommend that, in future, DCLG and Defra work together to ensure that such consultation is held at the earliest possible stage, rather than taking the supply of water for granted,” the committee, led by Lord Selborne, said.

The peers called for “balance between resource development and demand management” in dealing with increasing demand and shrinking water resources. “But this balance will not be achieved until the currently fragmented institutional arrangements for water management are simplified and coordinated,” they said.

Water companies should be given more powers to install compulsory water meters, the influential committee said. To avoid water bills rising after meters are installed, the companies should be able to partially disconnect customers who fail to pay their bills, it said.

Other suggestions included new regional boards to represent Ofwat together with environmental and consumer interests, extending the scope of the Carbon Trust and the Energy Saving Trust to water efficiency, and increased funds for fixing leaks.

The peers also criticised the Government’s water management strategy for failing to consider the impact of climate change on future water availability: “We have seen insufficient evidence to convince us that the potential consequences of climate change are being adequately factored into long-term planning for water management,” the report reads.

Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth commented: “I don’t know how John Prescott has the gall to lecture anyone about Climate Change.

“Everyone, except Mr Prescott, is aware that the South East is suffering from water shortages. It is deeply irresponsible to build houses unless water efficiency comes as standard: it is as simple as that.”

Liberal democrat housing spokesperson Dan Rogerson said: “The Thames Gateway redevelopment project is a vital part of solving the housing crisis in the South-East and is a valuable opportunity to develop truly sustainable communities. This level of miscommunication about something so important as water supply is shocking.

Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of the Local Government Association, said giving councils more of a say in planning would improve sensitivity to the local environment: “Councils that have a better understanding of local issues and problems would have been much better placed to prevent this deeply worrying situation occurring in the first place.

“The government must learn its lesson and place more trust in local agencies to avoid similar problems arising in the future.

“Councils need to have the powers to take local decisions over planning and housing targets for their own areas.”

The full report can be accessed at the UK Parliament website.

Goska Romanowicz

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