5 The Wider Policy Agenda |
58. Where we believe that important matters have
been omitted from the Draft Bill we have made specific recommendations.
We do not, however, disagree in principle with the Minister's
assertion that much can be achieved without legislation. Coming
just a few months after our inquiry into the Water White Paper,
we have taken the opportunity during pre-legislative scrutiny
to return to some of the wider policy issues that we considered
in our previous report and to consider whether they are being
taken forward with sufficient urgency. We have taken a particular
interest in those provisions of the Flood and Water Management
Act 2010 (FWMA) which remain outstanding.
Sustainable Drainage and Reservoirs
59. The key provisions of the FWMA on Sustainable
Drainage Systems, or SuDS remain unimplemented, including: removing
the right to lay impermeable surfaces as of right on back gardens
and business premises; removing the automatic right to connect
surface water drainage of new developments to the sewerage system;
and resolving the ownership and maintenance of SuDs. In our report
on the White Paper we criticised the lack of urgency in Defra's
work to improve the management of surface water and we urged the
Department to ensure that implementation of the FWMA's provisions
was not subject to any further unnecessary delay.
During the course of our pre-legislative scrutiny, parts of England
and Wales were once again hit by flooding, with surface water
a major contributory factor to the damage caused to homes and
businesses. In their evidence to this inquiry, Severn Trent argued
that pushing ahead with the implementation of these provisions
should be a priority.
60. We were therefore dismayed to discover during
the course of the oral evidence session with the Minister that
implementation of the SuDS regulations had been put back once
again, and was now not expected until April 2014.
The Minister defended this additional further delay, telling us
that "we simply could not take this forward in a meaningful
way any quicker",
and that "we found that the provisions in the Act are not
easy to take forward. They were for a new Government to take forward,
and we have done that in a way that has really tested the resources
of both our Department and others who would have to implement
61. We are greatly concerned
by the further postponement of the implementation of the Flood
and Water Management Act's provisions on Sustainable Drainage
Systems to April 2014. We expect the Department, in its response
to this report, to set out which particular elements of the regulations
have caused such difficulty to implement and to explain the steps
it is taking to address those issues so that the regulations can
come into force at the earliest possible opportunity.
62. The FWMA contained provisions to give effect
to Sir Michael Pitt's recommendations relating to reservoir safety,
including amendments to the Reservoirs Act 1975. Defra consulted
on the implementation of these provisions in 2012 and has commissioned
the Institution of Civil Engineers to review two key guidance
documents: A guide to the Reservoirs Act 1975 and Floods
and Reservoirs Safety Guidance, 3rd edition. The
Environment Agency is also producing a new risk-based methodology
for the classification of high-risk reservoirs. We have previously
pressed the Department to work with the Institution of Civil Engineers
to complete the reviews of guidance documents by December 2012;
that date has now passed but the Minister told us that Defra intended
to publish the Guide to the Reservoirs Act in 2013 and
that the revised Floods and Safety Reservoirs Guidance,
commissioned in August 2011, was working to a target timescale
of two years.
63. We urge Defra to ensure
that the revised Guide to the Reservoirs Act 1975
is published no later than April 2013. We are disappointed by
the two-year target timescale for the review of Floods and
Reservoirs Safety Guidance and recommend that Defra work with
the Institution of Civil Engineers to bring publication forward
to April 2013.
64. The FWMA contained provisions to tackle the
problem of bad debt in the industry, which has been estimated
to add approximately £15 to each customer's bill.
These provisions, which would place a responsibility on landlords
to provide details of their tenants for billing purposes, have
not been implemented, and the Government has subsequently consulted
on an alternative, voluntary approach to obtaining this information.
During the course of our inquiry into the Water White Paper, we
heard evidence from both water companies and consumer representatives
which criticised the Government's failure to implement the bad
debt provisions and questioned the likely effectiveness of a voluntary
approach. We recommended that the Government implement the relevant
provisions without further delay, noting the injustice of increasing
bills for hard-pressed customers to subsidise those who simply
refused to pay.
65. Again, we were disappointed to find that
little or no progress had been made since our report was published.
In oral evidence the Minister reiterated his concern that regulation
could place a disproportionate burden on landlords;
Water UK argued that "It really is a very small administrative
burden for something which would avoid customers, who are facing
difficulty paying their bills, paying more because of bad debt".
We remain of the view that
it is unacceptable for honest customers to be forced to subsidise
those who refuse to pay their water bills. We reiterate our previous
recommendation that Defra should implement the provisions of the
Flood and Water Management Act 2010 on bad debt without further
66. Another area in which there has been a notable
and deeply worrying lack of progress since our last report is
on the issue of flood insurance. The current Statement of Principles
agreed between the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the
Government is due to expire at the end of June 2013 and, although
discussions have been ongoing throughout the course of our pre-legislative
scrutiny, no agreement has yet been reached on the provision of
insurance cover for at-risk homes and businesses beyond this date.
The Draft Bill does not include any specific clauses relating
to flood insurance, but the introductory section on "Taking
the Draft Bill forward" notes that "the UK and Welsh
Governments may also need to consider legislation to help manage
the financial risk of flooding".
67. The Minister was reluctant to discuss the
progress of negotiations in any detail when he appeared before
us, but said that the Department was "working really hard
to achieve" affordable and freely available cover.
On the specific issue of whether legislation would be needed,
officials told us that "The structure that might emerge is
not clear, but if it involved either financial or regulatory structures
or a combination that would probably require further legislation".
In addition, the Government has not yet fully implemented 'insurance
with rent schemes' that were recommended in the Pitt Review. We
will explore these issues with the insurance industry when we
take evidence from them shortly.
68. Whilst we understand the
Minister's reluctance to provide a running commentary on negotiations
with the Association for British Insurers and the possible solutions
that are being considered, we are conscious that the current Statement
of Principles will expire in less than six months, well before
Royal Assent to a Water Act can reasonably be expected. We therefore
wish to establish more details of the legislative solution(s)
that are being considered should it prove necessary to go down
that route; and in particular what consideration has been given
to the basis on which flood insurance would be provided during
the period between the expiry of the Statement of Principles and
Royal Assent to a Water Act. We expect the Department to provide
these details in its response to this report.
69. We face a future in which water resources
are likely to come under increasing pressure. It is therefore
ever more important to encourage the efficient use of water. There
are a number of steps that householders can take to reduce their
water use, for example, through rainwater harvesting. The UK Rainwater
Harvesting Association argued that water companies should "be
encouraged to work in closer partnership with the rainwater harvesting
industry in addressing the future sustainability of water supplies".
We endorse this call.
70. One key tool that has been shown to reduce
demand for water is the more widespread use of metering. We have
previously expressed our disappointment that the Water White Paper
did not take a more ambitious approach to metering.
Some of the evidence we received in connection with this inquiry
argued that the Draft Bill was also a missed opportunity to increase
metering levels. Environmental groups argued that the Draft Bill
should have taken steps to remove existing barriers to metering,
whilst Wessex Water felt that metering should be the default position
on change of occupancy, pointing out the benefits of using this
opportunity to introduce a meter:
Households have been shown to be willing to accept
metering at the point of moving into a property. Households tend
to incorporate their new water charges as one part of much wider
changes to their budget. And as most water use behaviour is driven
by habit the new house gives them a good opportunity to change
those habits and become more water efficient.
71. We remain disappointed that the Government
has not acted on our recommendation that it set a clear and ambitious
target to increase levels of metering. We believe that more should
be done to educate the public about the value of water and to
increase take up levels of metering. We
recommend that Defra work with water companies to explore methods
to encourage the installation of water meters upon change of occupancy,
including through providing financial incentives.
103 HC (2012-13) 374, p13 Back
Ev 93 Back
Q 349 Back
Q 357 Back
Q 359 Back
Water for Life, p66 Back
HC (2012-13) 374, p20 Back
Q 349 Back
Q 2 Back
Draft Water Bill, p15 Back
Q 361 Back
Q 364 Back
Ev w50 Back
HC (2012-13) 374, para 41 Back
Ev 99 Back