Photo of Ladybower Reservoir, Hope Valley by Jacob Amson via Unsplash

The reaction on social media was predictably polarised between glowing praise from Government officials and scepticism from others. But what did these publications actually say, and why are they significant?

Firstly, the Plan for Water sets out existing and proposed future actions for delivering clean and plentiful water. It’s the first time we’ve seen the Government’s documented plan for post-Brexit water policy, under the Environment Act (2021).

The Government is obviously keen to pledge its commitment to a healthy water environment in the face of increasing public pressure to reduce river pollution and this issue is front and centre in the plan. The plan pledges to accelerate around £1.6 billion of new water company infrastructure delivery to start in the next 2 years – reducing the number of spills from storm overflows, nutrient pollution, and increasing water supply. It also requires water companies to provide the first 5000+ action plans on individual storm overflows.

There are statements to making farming laws clearer, improving chalk streams, combating non-native and invasive species, reducing water pollution from roads, restricting the use of ‘forever chemicals’, speeding up the delivery of new water resource schemes, supporting farmers to store more water on their land, tackling leakage and improving water efficiency.

The headline-grabber is the Government commitment to bringing forward measures to ban the sale of wet wipes containing plastic. However, the small print says that this is subject to consultation and the immediate action is to write to advertising authorities and producers about using the word ‘flushable’ in wet wipes.

Arguably, the most significant step forward is the creation of a new Water Restoration Fund to channel water company environmental fines and penalties into projects that improve the water environment, rather than the existing system where this money goes into the Treasury black hole. Polluters will also face unlimited fines, rather than the current limit of £250,000. The theory is to offer regulators a quicker route to enforcement than lengthy and costly criminal prosecutions (although the most serious cases will continue to be taken through criminal proceedings). Sounds good, of course, but for to this work depends on firstly having a strong, adequately resourced regulator and secondly, a specialist services sector that can provide the required level of expertise and capacity to deliver.

a head shot of Dave Bradley

Dr David Bradley, Freshwater Sector Technical Director

There are some positive statements, but also a lot of tired catchment-based rhetoric from a decade ago. Additionally, the new sights are set almost entirely on the water industry – which is only part of the problem. Agriculture and physical modification are the other two big-hitters on the water bodies pressures league table (equal to or bigger than wastewater pollution) but receive a noticeably light-touch and are not even given a mention in the Ministerial Foreword. The subsequent Downing Street Food Summit held in May confirmed that the Government’s priority is to show support for farmers by focussing on their main concerns of inflation and national food security.

On the other hand, the Frequently Flooded Allowance scheme was welcomed by the majority. This scheme is putting £100 million of funding in place for smaller communities in England that have suffered repeated flooding and have previously not met the Government rules for flood defences. The first 53 local projects were announced on 5 April and will be allocated more than £26 million in total, better protecting more than 2,300 households and businesses across the country. The ring-fenced funding will be spent on projects to improve local flood resilience through a mixture of hard engineering flood defences and natural flood management measures.

As we move into the summer and pressures on the water industry increase, water companies have two immediate weights to balance: environmental concerns and supply problems. The Defra Plan for Water supports investment into the long-term planning of strategic options and new infrastructure, to ease demand on the grid and improve environmental issues.

To find out more about how the APEM Group support the water industry, follow David on LinkedIn or speak to the Freshwater team here.

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