Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Surfers Against Sewage (DWB 06)

  We welcome the timely inquiry into this new piece of legislation. Our response is largely the same as that to the consultation exercise currently being undertaken by the DETR.

  Due to the development of the debate and certain key discussions there may be some additional points that SAS will be keen to pursue with the DETR. One such stakeholder discussion is taking place at Water UK on 8 January, 2001.


  On the whole Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) feel that the draft Water Bill addresses issues relating to both water conservation and regulation (and the interaction of the two), with considerable success. The powers and duties of the regulators have been expanded to cover a considerably broader area than under existing legislation, with far more emphasis being placed on consumer interests. With the proposal that the consumer become an integral part of the regulatory process comes the request from SAS that "the consumer" is more correctly and fairly represented.

  It is good to see the value of competition within the water industry acknowledged by the Government and to see that in order to increase competition they have recognised the need for legislative changes. SAS have always called for value for customers' money and by acknowledging the consumer is rightly at the centre of the whole regulation debate, so the need and potential for competition increases. Increased competition brings better value for customers' money.


  SAS are a nationwide campaign representing the interests of all people who use the coastal and inland waters of the UK. SAS call for:

  1.  The greatest environmental benefit per pound of customers money spent.

  2.  The capital investment programme of the water industry to be aimed at the real issue of sewage disposal; the viruses and bacteria contained therein.

  SAS have given written evidence to the 1994 House of Lords Select Committee on Bathing Water, the 1997-98 House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry into Sewage Treatment and Disposal and to the 1999-2000 House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry into Water Prices and the Environment.

  SAS were also called to give oral evidence to the 1994 and 1997-98 inquiries and would welcome the chance to give evidence to this Committee should that be required.


Foreward by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  SAS would thoroughly endorse the sentence: "Everyone is entitled to a reliable source of clean water and a healthy environment." This is a timeless statement and should be recognised as such, there are no exceptions, clean water is a necessity!

  The need to be flexible and efficient is again something that must be borne in mind. The UK is starting to look at the whole water industry in a new light, with sustainability at the core. Flexibility will be an essential part of the development of the water industry, but flexibility must not mean weakness.

  SAS are very pleased to note that the Government have emphasised the link between investing in our environment and benefits for the economy. SAS have always maintained that investing in our environment has an impact on the economy of the nation as a whole.

  SAS wholeheartedly welcome the setting up of an independent Consumer Council for Water. We will return to this in the main body of the response.

  Our response to this consultation is structured in sections as they appear in the draft Bill. We have not responded to all the sections, only to the ones we see as appropriate to our campaign and to the interests of our members.


  8.  We welcome the acknowledgement that much has changed since the current framework for abstractions was created in 1963. In drafting this new piece of legislation it is important to look ahead and understand that there is an ever-increasing pace in the understanding of environmental issues.

  One such issue is that of reuse of a final effluent. This is likely to become a very important issue with relation to abstraction licences within the UK.

  In the Deputy Prime Minister's introduction to the consultation document he refers to the UK's exporting of technology throughout the world and the benefits of this to the economy. Internationally reuse of a final effluent is of huge importance.

  SAS' view is that new abstraction licences should only be granted when the possibility of reuse has been ruled out. This should only occur once a detailed cost/benefit analysis has been carried out. In both environmental and economic terms it is simply inefficient and unsustainable not to reuse a high quality effluent.

  9.  SAS agree that a new approach to abstraction licences is important in strengthening protection of wildlife and habitats.

  We would also like to raise a secondary issue in relation to abstractions. It must be taken into account that in many situations abstractions take place on water-courses where there are also licences to discharge. These discharge licences are often determined with dilution as a key factor. If abstractions are too great this could threaten the required volume for any dilution of any effluent.

  12.  —3rd bullet—We are slightly concerned over the proposed reduction in regulation for small abstractions and would ask for reassurance that this situation will not be abused. 20,000 licence holders at 20 cubic metres a day is a considerable volume of water.

  13.  SAS would endorse the idea that publication of licences should be undertaken by the EA with the costs being met by applicants.

  With regard to the procedures for objections to licence applications, it is important to allow an adequate timescale for any objections.

  18.  SAS welcome the increase in the level of penalties for offences related to abstraction and impounding.

  19.  We welcome the requirement of water companies to be placed under enforceable duties to use water abstracted in an efficient manner. This is an area where water companies should be required to look at the reuse of final effluents.


  23.  —1st bullet—SAS would welcome the establishment of a Water Advisory Panel.

  We would further comment that this Panel must be of a broad background that represents all sectors of water customers, including environmentalists and people across all age groups.

  We would refer to a recommendation of the Select Committee Inquiry into Water Prices and the Environment that: "OFWAT seeks to ensure that its own statements do not "demonise" environmental and quality investment by portraying it as the key upward pressure on prices, without equally emphasising the customer and public benefits which it delivers."

  The make-up of a Water Advisory Panel should reflect this recommendation.

  23.  —2nd bullet—SAS again welcome the establishment of an independent Consumer Council for Water and would ask that, as with the Water Advisory Panel, the make-up and representation is broad and fair.

  With regard to both of these points we would argue that paid positions should be created. One of the reasons that OFWAT CSCs and the OFWAT National Customer Council appear to be out of touch with the real desire of customers is the fact that only people who have either the money or the time (without a need to earn a living) have been able to give their time to serve. This has resulted in an often ageist view of the real desire of customers. It is important that quality people from all ages can be represented in proportion to the age profile of water consumers.

  23.  —5th bullet—We would welcome a regulatory requirement for the Director to take account of Government or National Assembly guidance on social and environmental matters.

  23.  —6th bullet—We would also thoroughly endorse any move to allow the Secretary of State and National Assembly to propose new or amended standards of performance for water or sewerage services, normally in relation to health or the environment.

  23.  —7th bullet—SAS feel that it is vital to establish a clear and consistent system/level of fines which can be applied to any water company that fails to meet its requirements. The suggested level of "up to ten per cent of its turnover" is, in our opinion, within the right financial bracket.

  23.  —9th bullet—Requiring water companies to disclose any links between their directors' pay and performance standards can only be good news.

  23.  —10th bullet—SAS welcome the requirement for the Director, Secretary of State and National Assembly to justify their key decisions. The Select Committee Inquiry into Water Prices and the Environment highlighted a failure on the behalf of the Director to justify some of his key decisions. A transparent approach is needed and that must be in the true sense of the word, not just paying lip service to that requirement.

  23.  —11th bullet—By replacing the specialist panel for water with a single cross utility group, water will become more comparable with the other utilities. This is viewed by SAS as a positive move.


  34.  We welcome the maximum sentence in a magistrates court to be raised from £5,000 to £20,000. This is more in keeping with the level of profits of water companies. In some cases, a cynical view would be that it is cheaper for a company to pollute and pay the fine than to comply with its licence requirements, this should help address the issue.


  Public information is vital.

  SAS would like to bring to your attention at this stage the need for more information to be made available to the public on location at designated bathing waters. We feel that at the present time the general public are lacking the information to enable them to make an informed choice about where they go in the water.

  The Environment Agency do publish the bathing water results for each designated water, but SAS are sure that more user friendly and relevant information would benefit the public significantly.

  In addition, SAS would also like to see signage displayed when a CSO (Combined Sewer Overflow) is discharging, particularly when into a designated bathing water. At the moment there is no one body that takes responsibility for warning the general public about such incidents and this is something that should be clarified. In some areas of the UK, Environmental Health Officers take on the role, in other areas it is the Water Companies. It is vital that we establish a system and that this system is uniform throughout the UK to avoid the "Jaws" syndrome. See Appendix A.[11]


  SAS would support the inclusion of any Clause that was directly in line with the Government's commitment to sustainability. This is in keeping with a recommendation of the Environmental Audit Committee in their inquiry into Water Prices and the Environment: "We believe that companies do not have sufficient incentives to promote water efficiency and that there would be merit in investigating the feasibility of setting company-specific targets for domestic water use, once a robust methodology for efficiency measurement has been agreed".


  SAS endorse the inclusion of this Clause but would also ask that it is broadened to cover other types of mines eg tin.


  Every effort should be made to minimise pollution of water courses from any contaminated land source.

  35.  SAS welcome any developments in the law that would strengthen environmental protection and would like to be reassured that this change will not do the opposite. SAS successfully utilised section 79e of the Environmental Protection Act to judicially review Carrick District Councils' decision not to issue an abatement notice against South West Water. Persistent sewage-related debris on a local beach was deemed a statutory nuisance.


New secondary legislation powers

  SAS agree that all the listed powers are both relevant and necessary.

Amendments to existing secondary legislation powers

  SAS agree that these amendments are necessary.

  In particular allowing the Secretary of State to make regulations without first requiring an application from the Director, will enhance efficiency.

New powers to give directions

  SAS endorse the proposed changes that create new powers to give directions.

  In particular we support the proposal for the Secretary of State to determine which matters the Director has to refer to the Water Advisory Panel for advice.

  In addition we agree that it is necessary for the Consumer Council for Water to be able to access relevant information from the specific sources listed, both readily and in a format of their choice.

New powers to issue statutory guidance

  Again SAS would agree that guidance in these key areas is necessary.

Work in progress


  SAS fully support any moves to increase competition within the water industry but agree that this must be done in a regulated and controlled manner. An integral part of competition in the future will indeed be restructuring, which will in itself bring a new aspect to the debate. SAS were interested to read the proposed new ownership structures for both Yorkshire and Welsh Water and welcomed the chance to formally respond to the acquisition proposals. Careful examination of proposed structures and extensive customer consultation is vital.

  Please find attached Appendices:

  B, SAS response to OFWAT consultation document on the proposed acquisition of Dwr Cymru by Glas Cymru.[12]

  C, SAS response to OFWAT consultation document on the proposed restructuring of the Kelda Group.3


  SAS feel that it is logical not only to provide customers with information on their specific water company but it is important to inform the general public as a whole as to specifics of company performance. This is particularly relevant where sewage treatment works are in operation and where a bathing water may be affected by a discharge. Levels of treatment and locations of those discharges should be flagged up to the public via signage.

  With regards to customer information on company performance, the information must be concise and reader friendly, otherwise it will simply be a waste of paper. With proposed changes in water company structure emerging, and a shift in the emphasis away from the conventional shareholder model, to one more focused on customer pressure, it would certainly pay to generate more positive public interest in the industry.


  SAS agreed that giving the Agency the ability to regulate more effectively in the transfer of discharge consents, is essential.


  SAS would support any move to tighten controls on any pollutants entering the aquatic environment. We have particular concerns over hormone disrupting substances, persistent chemicals and heavy metals, and feel that it is essential for the sources of these contaminants to be traced, enabling the consenting process to be applied where appropriate.


  It is essential that any flood defence strategy is viewed in the long term with a regional, as opposed to a local, approach. SAS would also like to highlight an issue associated with flooding—sewer flooding and the contamination of water courses with polluted flood water. All effort must be made to tackle this problem.


  We are concerned that unless we have overlooked it, this Bill does not appear to have included any proposed approach to the regulation and management of pollution from diffuse sources, Diffuse pollution is obviously harder to monitor and control than point source pollution but it would be encouraging to see some acknowledgement of the problem and perhaps the introduction of legislation that would attempt in some way to prevent the pollution occurring in the first place.


  SAS are confident that the draft Water Bill does take into account the majority of relevant issues. It is good to see the Agency being given more "teeth" in the form of larger fines and it is also encouraging to see the DG being involved more in the whole water debate as opposed to just the financial regulation. We would however highlight the need to further address the issue of provision of information and to further clarify the make-up of both the Water Advisory Panel and the Consumer Council for Water.

December 2000

11   Not printed. Back

12   Not printed. Back

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