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Sophie Cameron

Features and Opinion Editor, Solicitors Journal

Government publishes new plan for water

Government publishes new plan for water


The plan includes measures to strengthen regulation and enforcement

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published on 4 April the government’s new plan for water, which includes measures to strengthen regulation and toughen enforcement, in order to clean up the water environment and ensure a plentiful water supply.

A notable measure to strengthen enforcement relating to the water environment includes changing the law to increase the scope and maximum amount the Environment Agency (EA) can secure in penalties from water companies for damaging the environment. Alongside the publication of the new plan, the government has launched a consultation on this particular proposal, including a preferred option to remove the cap and enable the EA to issue unlimited penalties.?The consultation closes on 15 May 2023.

The new plan includes a focus on combatting pollution of the water environment, which includes pollutants from agriculture, plastics, chemicals, road run-off and storm overflows. In this regard, a public consultation will also be launched on the proposal to ban the use of plastic wet wipes, which contribute to polluting the UK’s waterways. Speaking at the launch of the new plan at the London Wetland Centre, Environment Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, highlighted “the scourge of sewage pollution that needs solving once and for all.” She added that the “significant over-use” of storm overflows by water companies has gradually come to light and that she agrees with the public that such use is “completely unacceptable.”

The measures included in the plan to strengthen regulation include: developing new proposals to restrict the use of ‘forever’ chemicals (PFAS) found in rivers and seas, including proposals for a ban on PFAS in fire-fighting foams; the launch of a new national policy statement on water resources so that key water supply infrastructure can be built more quickly; an earlier deadline for water companies to reduce chemicals in wastewater treatment; integrating water and flood planning to target actions where they will have the biggest impact for nature; and reducing water demand by encouraging water companies to consider how to rapidly increase smart meter installations.

The measures set out in the plan to toughen enforcement include: increasing permit charges on water companies to fund more EA water company inspections, with new inspection targets; and reviewing and updating the existing memorandum of understanding between the EA and Ofwat for enhanced joint regulatory oversight of water companies. A new Water Restoration Fund will also be established that will be funded by fines imposed on water companies for breaches of their obligations to protect the environment.

Commenting on the new plan for water, Coffey added: “Our rare chalk streams and world-famous coastlines, lakes and rivers are hugely important to local communities and to nature. I completely understand the concerns that people have about the health and resilience of our waters, which is why I am setting out this plan for a truly national effort to protect and improve them. That includes higher penalties taken from water company profits which will be channelled back into the rivers, lakes and streams where it is needed. This is not straightforward, but I take this issue extremely seriously and things need to change. That’s why we have developed this plan and we are committed to delivering the progress that people want to see.”