Submission of final water plans marks important step in tackling England's supply gap

Today is the deadline for water companies to submit long term plans for how they will manage public water supplies.

Published: 31 Aug 2023

By: Rob Mallows

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tap water going into a glass

The National Infrastructure Commission has welcomed the submission of the remaining water company Water Resource Management Plans to Ofwat ahead of the regulator’s upcoming price review process which determines the levels of investment companies are able to make in new infrastructure. Today (31 August) is the deadline by which water companies yet to submit their plans are required to do so.

Water Resource Management Plans are statutory documents that each of England’s water companies is required to produce every five years as part of wider efforts to secure the public water supply for their regions. They offer a long term strategy to inform the investment package which each company will set out in its business plan to Ofwat in October.

Acknowledging this crucial deadline, National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt said:

“The Commission welcomes the publication of these Water Resource Management Plans, which give us a clearer picture of how the water companies propose to plug the gap between supply and demand for water in England over the next three decades.

“In the face of a growing population and increasing drought risk, we need to see a robust twin track approach: cutting demand through reducing leakage and consumer use and building new water infrastructure. Our own modelling shows that cutting leaks and reducing demand alone isn’t sufficient: there has to be significant investment in a broad mix of new infrastructure – including reservoirs, transfer networks, recycling and desalination plants –  to keep the taps from running dry and limit the damage to our environment from over extraction.”

“We’ve already called for funding for new infrastructure and for leakage and demand reduction programmes to be included in Ofwat’s upcoming price review settlement. But with no new reservoirs built in the last three decades, there is a lot of catching up to do: that’s why reform of the planning system to reduce the time it takes for major projects to get planning consent cannot wait any longer. Without it, the infrastructure set out in these plans may not be in place by the 2030s, increasing the likelihood of more droughts like we saw last year and greater environmental damage.”

These plans together commit the companies to working together at a regional level on managing the water supply and to take action to increase water supplies sufficient to achieve drought resilience equivalent to the risk of a one in five hundred drought. The water companies are already committed to halving the levels of leakage from the water network by 2050 and reducing levels of usage to 110 litres per person per day.

The various Water Resource Management Plans propose in total nine new reservoirs over the next 25 years, alongside various new desalination plants, water recycling plants, reservoir extensions and water transfers. These projects represent a step change in planned construction compared to the last 30 years, during which time no new public water supply reservoirs have been built, and only one desalination plant, one recycling plant and one reservoir extension have been completed.

In April, the Commission’s report on the planning system for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects called for a range of improvements – including better data sharing on environmental information and more tangible direct benefits for hosting major new infrastructure – as part of a wider process of reform to speed up the planning system and reduce by up to a half the time it takes for major infrastructure projects – such as new reservoirs – to receive planning consent.

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