UK water sector outlines £2.8bn green recovery plan

The UK's major water companies have outlined plans to collectively funnel almost £3bn into environmental projects and sustainable infrastructure and processes, with the support of regulator Ofwat and the UK Government.

UK water sector outlines £2.8bn green recovery plan

The sector is targeting net-zero by 2030

Published today (17 May), the investment plans cover the period through to 2025. They outline £1.9bn for environmental projects including restoration and conservation of habitats including peatland, wetlands and forests. Blue and green flood defences will be prioritised over solely man-made technologies, the plans state. 

There is s a further £850m for what is described as “green investment projects”.

Projects which fall into this category include the creation of two new bathing rivers; technologies that help plants to reduce energy and chemical use and partnerships to enhance water stewardship at the catchment level. Additionally included are measures to help business and domestic customers to use less water, with a focus on areas where water is abstracted from chalk streams.

Organisations including the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency will help the sector to deliver key projects. Also supporting are CWW and the Drinking Water Inspectorate. Ofwat, the sector’s regulator, said in the plan documents that it will help water firms to “minimise the immediate bill impacts on customers as far as possible”, stating that many of the planned projects will not impact bills at all.

The funding outlined is all new, according to the Ofwat document, and has been allocated as part of the sector’s effort to contribute to the UK’s economic recovery from Covid-19, and to reach net-zero by 2030. A total of 13 water companies are covered by the new plans, including

“From tackling the most pressing environmental issues, to providing economic stimulus with the backing of jobs and training, there has never been a more important time to act,” Ofwat’s interim chief executive David Black said. “These proposals can be of huge benefit for people and the planet when it is needed most.”

The proposals are subject to consultation and a final decision is expected in July.

Environmental Audit Committee chair Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow, said: “This a positive step in the right direction, with many measures seeking to improve water quality of rivers and reduce the environmental harm from sewage discharges. 

“However, this piecemeal approach to investment by the water companies simply demonstrates the urgent need to upgrade our regulatory and investment model. We still need coherent long-term plans and funding to address water companies’ inadequate and polluting sewerage systems.”

COP26 planning

The news comes after Water UK, the trade body for the sector, became an official partner for the UNFCCC’s Race to Zero campaign – a campaign aiming to raise collective climate ambitions and accelerate action ahead of COP26.

COP26 president Alok Sharma last week announced that the Government is pressing ahead with plans to host the conference, which will take place in Glasgow in November, in a face-to-face format as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve globally.

Sarah George

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