Draft Water Bill
Written evidence submitted by Action for the River Kennet (ARK)
The Committee will know already of Action for the River Kennet (ARK) from the Written and Oral Evidence that we submitted to your Inquiry into the Water White Paper. As you would expect we warmly welcomed your Report from that Inquiry, with its emphasis on the urgency of the need to reform the abstraction regime and the key role of metering in reducing consumption.
We were therefore particularly disappointed that the Draft Water Bill published in July makes effectively no progress on either of these key fronts, in strong contrast to the need for urgency for action conveyed in the White Paper and previous Reports from the Environment Agency, such as "The Case for Change – current and future water availability".
Our first main comment is accordingly: DEFRA has said that it "will formally consult on detailed proposals for abstraction reform by the end of next year". No reason has been adduced for this delay. Consultation could start forthwith. The draft Water Bill should include the necessary legislative framework for abstraction reform, which would give the Government the powers needed to introduce the reforms. Such reforms could then be introduced in 2015, based on the principles in the White Paper. There is no need to wait until the next Parliament as the Department propose.
Secondly, we are disappointed that the draft Bill makes so little mention, let alone progress on metering. All the national and international evidence gathered by the Environment Agency and others, and much submitted to your Committee show that metering is one of - if not the – most effective way of reducing demand. Given the future climate change and water availability scenarios set out by the Environment Agency – all pointing to increasing demand and reduced supply - we find it extraordinary that Government is not actively pursuing this relatively simple approach more vigorously. Accordingly we urge that the Draft Bill includes measures to facilitate the introduction of universal metering – if necessary on a rising or block tariff basis to protect the poorest customers. No other expensive commodity (eg energy) could possibly be supplied on a flat rate, regardless of usage.
Thirdly, given Ofwat’s key role in regulating and influencing the water industry, we urge the Government to include measures to elevate Ofwat’s duty to sustainable development from a secondary duty to a primary duty. This would be consistent with its appointment of a Director for Environmental Policy, and would give Ofwat a leading role in developing an environmentally sustainable water sector, based on reduced water demand.
I hope these comments are useful, and may help the Committee to comment as vigorously on the Draft Bill as you did in your Report on the White Paper.