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  • by Karma Loveday

Labour peers call for government bite the bullet on difficult water resource questions

Labour peers have called on the government to set out a clearer strategy on water resources in a House of Lords motion to take note on the National Policy Statement (NPS) for Water Resources.

Lord Adonis (pictured) said the draft NPS does not amount to a strategy, rather “a list of considerations” that need to be addressed in the development of a national strategy. In particular, he said of three key issues: “On the questions of whether we will or will not be building new reservoirs, will or will not have a national water grid or will or will not have mandatory water metering—three absolutely critical issues in terms of a water infrastructure plan—the government have ducked them all so far and have simply kicked them forward.”

He added: “If the can is kicked down the road and this becomes the national policy statement, the onus will in fact be on the water companies to come forward with plans that will then go to Ofwat to go through a regulatory and economic assessment with the government having the reserve power to intervene or not. I simply say …that that will not work when it comes to taking controversial decisions. We have been there and it has not worked in the past. That is what the Abingdon reservoir saga shows us. The only way that you will get controversial new infrastructure built is by the government taking the lead with a government infrastructure plan.”

Shadow environment spokesperson Baroness Jones of Whitchurch agreed that “very difficult and often controversial decisions need to be taken, and this document is not sufficiently clear on how those decisions will be taken and who will be making them when the chips are down. It is not just a local authority decision; ultimately, decisions will need to be taken at the national level. There are difficult decisions ahead, and we need further clarity on how they will be handled.”

Peers raised other points during the debate, which government representative Lord Gardiner

said would be noted and considered as the draft NPS is progressed. Some are listed here.

• Water to enable housebuilding and growth – called for by Conservative peer and chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum Lord Lansley but challenged by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch who argued, “We need to support proposals to measure future planning applications against the environmental impact assessment and the habitats regulations assessment.”

• Cross border agreement on supplies from Wales – recalling the horrors of the “Tryweryn Valley saga” where a Welsh village was flooded to supply Merseyside industry, Plaid Cymru peer Lord Wigley said where cross border supplies are concerned, there needs to be “a mutuality of approach” rather than just consultation. He said: “Given the politically explosive nature of these matters in Wales, good sense dictates that there should be some form of standing dialogue structures between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the one hand and the appropriate people from the Welsh Government on the other. This should be operational at both a political and technical level.”

• Conservative Baroness McIntosh of Pickering called for consideration of a range of issues including: SUDS; ending the automatic right to connect to water supply; making water companies statutory planning consultees; considering small reservoirs as well as large; and the government appointing a lead authority in each catchment to coordinate catchment management activities.

• Other considerations raised by a variety of Lords – including ensuring customers are not cut off from supplies for long periods; executive pay; trapping water from flood defences for use in water stressed areas; water reuse and recycling; and ensuring the NPS is integrated with other policy documents.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble confirmed: “Our current estimate is that up to three nationally significant projects—all reservoirs—are likely to come forward in the next five to 10 years to provide sufficient infrastructure. Looking to 2050 and beyond, more are likely to be required.”

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