The Water White Paper - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents


Summary

The importance of managing water wisely has come to the forefront of public consciousness during the course of our inquiry, with much of England gripped by a severe drought and some areas simultaneously experiencing widespread flooding. Defra's much anticipated White Paper, Water for Life, follows a series of Government-commissioned reviews of water policy and sets out how the Government plans to tackle some of the key challenges facing the water sector over the coming years.

The White Paper warns that the twin challenges of climate change and population growth mean that water scarcity is likely to become an increasing problem in the future. It is therefore disappointing that Water for Life's proposals on abstraction reform and metering lack ambition and are unlikely to deliver meaningful change within acceptable timescales. Defra must bring forward its timetable for long-term reform of the abstraction regime and should set a clear target for increasing levels of metering. The Department should also ensure that implementation of provisions in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 to improve the management of surface water is not subject to further unnecessary delay.

The affordability of water bills is becoming an increasing problem for many households. Defra must do more to ensure that all those who can afford to pay their bills do so, and should implement the relevant provisions of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 without delay. It is unacceptable that hard-pressed households are subsidising bad debt in the sector to the tune of £15 every year.

We welcome Defra's decision to open up the water market to new entrants as we believe that increased competition in the sector will deliver real benefits to customers. It is critical that the legislation implementing the market reforms provides a framework for a healthy competitive market, and we have made recommendations about how this can best be achieved. Legislation should be brought forward swiftly and we look forward to publication of a draft Water Bill before the summer recess.





 
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Prepared 5 July 2012