Policy makers unite behind regional water resource planning

Policy makers have mandated regional, multi-sector water resources planning as part of a package of measures to overhaul water supply resilience policy.

An overview of the new expectations was set out in a letter of 9 August issued to water companies jointly by DEFRA water director Sarah Hendry, Ofwat chief executive Rachel Fletcher, chief drinking water inspector Marcus Rink and Environment Agency executive director of environment and business Harvey Bradshaw.

On regional planning, the policy-makers acknowledged the work already undertaken to improve coordination by regional hubs WRSE and WRE, as well as Wessex Water’s thinking around the ‘open system’ model. But they went on to say “the industry now needs to turn thinking into action”. Specifically: “Water companies should take a genuinely regional approach to producing plans that transcend company boundaries and identify optimum solutions for the region as a whole. This planning should then provide the basis for individual water company plans.”

Regional planning hubs in the south east, east, west and north were allowed flexibility over their governance and structures, but were told to:

  • produce regional plans that feed directly into individual water company plans and explore inter regional transfers as part of the planning process;

  • engage with other water users to develop cross-sector solutions; and

  • work with regional groups such as the Northern Powerhouse and Local Economic Partnerships to understand regional economic and population forecasts.

The policy makers added this work must begin in earnest immediately: “We expect water companies to commit time and money to regional planning and assessing the feasibility of regional and inter-regional solutions in the forthcoming regulatory period. This includes considering strategic transfers and strategic water storage infrastructure.”

The move to regional planning was one of five strands identified in the letter, needed to deliver the ambition to “enter the 2024 planning period with a regulatory framework that fully supports strategic, ambitious and collaborative water resource plans that make sure we have resilient water supplies for the long term.” The other strands were:

  • increased ambition in the forthcoming company business plans for the 2020 to 2025 period;

  • greater use of markets and competition to ensure solutions are delivered efficiently;

  • clear, joined up direction from government and regulators; and

  • a responsive regulatory approach to deal with issues as they arise.

The letter noted ensuring supply resilience is becoming “ever more challenging as water resources face increasing pressures from climate change, population growth, societal expectations and increasing environmental aspirations”.