• by Karma Loveday

Water Resources in the South East responds to NIC on drought

Independent chair of regional planning group Water Resources in the South East (WRSE), Simon Cocks has written to National Infrastructure Commission chair Sir John Armitt setting out WRSE’s view on what else needs to happen including legislative support and supply-side developments.

Cocks' letter was in the wake of the government’s interim response to the NIC’s needs assessment [see Budget brings 2019 National Infrastructure Strategy]. In it he has highlighted activity that is either underway or being planned to address the long-term resilience of water resources,

Among the activities Cocks (pictured) listed as already on companies’ to-do lists were:

• per capita consumption and leakage targets in PR19 business plans – Cocks said: “It should be highlighted that to date, investment in leakage has been driven entirely by economic factors and the approach now being taken by companies is a significant departure from this and takes the industry into new territory”;

• a new commitment to halve leakage by 2050; and

• WRSE’s ongoing work and modelling to identify preferred strategic solutions for the region (this continues while WRMPs are finalised and the latest modelling incorporates the NIC’s recommendations).

Also on the companies' list are supply-side schemes in company business plans. These included:

- development of a new reservoir at Havant Thicket in Hampshire with associated transfers – a joint project between Portsmouth Water and Southern Water.;

- a strategic transfer between South West Water and Southern Water;

- development of a new reservoir at Abingdon in Oxfordshire with associated transfers – a joint project between Thames and Affinity Water;

- feasibility studies on an inter-regional transfer between United Utilities, Severn Trent and Thames Water in association with the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales; and

- development of a water transfer hub by Affinity Water.

Alongside this activity, Cocks argued that other demand-side options should continue to be explored. For instance: “Regarding leakage, an ongoing focus on find and fix techniques will need to be considered against other methods, such as more widespread mains replacement programmes and policies associated with supply-pipe ownership, which potentially offer more resilience for the long-term.”

He also pointed to the need for supportive policy levers, including on compulsory metering, establishing a mandatory water label for water-using products, and increasing water efficiency requirements for new housing.

On regional planning, WRSE’s six-member companies have committed to developing a regional plan for 2024 and are working on this with the relevant stakeholders. Cocks said: “This includes, as an important first step, the need to review the current statutory WRMP process and identify how best regional planning can be formally embedded and whether any legislative or industry framework changes are needed.

"To achieve this, we need a responsive regulatory regime and the establishment of a national framework that enables regional groups to operate consistently and support the needs of other water users. We also need to make sure that regional groups have clear and concise terms of reference to ensure they can focus on the goal of regional plans that collectively address the national water supply challenge so clearly articulated in your report.”

Finally, on water resource markets, Cocks noted: “We also recognise Ofwat’s ambition to develop an effective market for water resources and drive greater efficiency into the process. Delivering greater resilience will require more collaboration than ever before and we must ensure that market development takes this into account; short-term and sub-optimal solutions will simply not support our ambitions for the region.”