Reforming water regulation: the Government consults

In recent articles we commented on how, historically, water infrastructure has been neglected. However, following the recent consultation on the new National Planning Statement and amendments to the Planning Act 2008, yet more change is now in the air. It seems water infrastructure is finally getting a little of the attention it deserves.

This latest consultation (published by Defra on 15 January 2019) introduces proposals intended to improve long-term planning for water resources and drainage, alongside plans to modernise the existing water regulation regime. The consultation also seeks to introduce a greater focus on the environmental impact of water resources and drainage, including climate change and its impacts.

Proposed improvements to the long-term planning of water resources and drainage include:

  • Improved water resources planning to facilitate collaborative regional planning and a consideration of all sectors of water users;
  • Statutory drainage and wastewater planning which fully assesses wastewater network capacity and develops collaborative solutions with those local authorities responsible for parts of the drainage system;
  • Amendments to existing Water Resource Management Plan provisions, which require companies to plan at a regional level as well as to consider the future needs of the environment and other water using sectors;
  • The placement of drainage and wastewater management plans (“DWMP”s) developed by the water industry on a statutory basis, with an encouragement for collaboration with those local authorities responsible for parts of the drainage system; and,
  • Amendments to the Water Industry Act 1991 to place a new statutory duty on water companies to require them to produce a DWMP every five years starting in 2023. This cycle would align with OWAT's existing price review mechanism.

Proposed changes intended to modernise water regulation include:

  • The reform of abstraction licensing to link it more tightly to Defra’s objectives for the water environment. In particular, the proposals clarify the conditions under which the Environment Agency can amend licences to secure good ecological status for water bodies;
  • Amendments to existing legislation to enable a new charging methodology for Internal Drainage Boards (“IDBs”). The proposed change will enable Government (where there is local support) to create new IDBs or expand existing ones;
  • First steps towards enabling new local funding to be raised to tackle flooding and coastal erosion;
  • The addition of a new link between the grant of abstraction licences and environmental sustainability. The consultation estimates that 1,500 of the existing 13,000 licences may currently be unsustainable. The consultation proposes an increase in those circumstances under the Water Act 2003 where abstraction licences can be varied or revoked without compensation if the environment is at risk through unsustainable abstraction;
  • Amendments to the process for modifying water company licence conditions. The consultation proposes bringing these in line with other utilities and also strengthening the regulator (OFWAT’s) ability to improve the way that water companies operate.

The consultation closes on 12 March 2019.

Posted on: 13/02/2019

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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