4 April 2023
More investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement on water companies announced in new government water plan
A new plan to clean up our waters and ensure a plentiful supply for the future has been set out by the government today (4 April).
Water Minister Rebecca Pow said:
"This ambitious plan marks a step change in how we manage our waters - pulling together all the strands of our complex water system, and setting us on a trajectory for a clean and sustainable water supply for future generations.
Crucially, it will ensure that we secure clean water from a healthy environment, where chalk streams are restored and entire catchments - from source to sea - are the focal point."
The Plan for Water covers both the water environment – how clean it is – and water resources – how much of it we have.
It brings together the significant action already taken, along with more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement on those who pollute.
It tackles every source of pollution, including from storm overflows, agriculture, plastics, road run-off and chemicals - as well as the pressures on our water resources as a result of hotter, drier summers and population growth.
It includes a commitment to consult on a ban on the use of plastic in wet wipes, responding to public calls to tackle the blight of plastic in our waterways and building on recent action from major retailers including Boots and Tesco. This ban will be subject to public consultation, working with industry and making sure plastic-free alternatives are available to the public.
The public rightly expect water companies, businesses and regulators to do all they can to protect our waterways. That’s why the plan will make sure water companies speed up their infrastructure upgrades – bringing forward £1.6 billion for work to start between now and 2025. Farmers will also be supported with an extra £34 million to tackle water pollution and boost food production, with an additional £10 million for farm reservoirs and irrigation.
Under the plan, fines from water companies will be reinvested into a new Water Restoration Fund, making polluters pay for damage they cause to the environment. This fund will deliver on-the-ground improvements to water quality as well as supporting local groups and community-led schemes which help to protect our waterways.
Tackling the challenges around water quality and resources requires effort across the whole of society, including businesses, regulators, government and households. This will not be fixed overnight, but today’s plan sets out a clear way forward for cleaner, plentiful water and to deliver the improvements people want to see.
- £1.6 billion of new, accelerated investment by water companies, to spend on new infrastructure to tackle pollution and increase our water resilience - includes £1.1 billion on storm overflow improvements to cut 10,000 discharges
- Creating a new Water Restoration Fund, using money from water company fines and penalties – taken from water company profits, not customers – to support local groups and catchment projects like re-meandering rivers and restoring habitats
- Delivering long-term catchment action plans – community-led schemes which aim to improve waterways and surrounding eco-systems – backed up by new funding, to improve all water bodies in England. This follows the credit scheme launched last week by Natural England to offset the environmental impact of new housing developments.
- More than doubling the money for slurry infrastructure for farmers to £34 million through the Slurry Infrastructure Grant, with further rounds to be launched later in 2023 and 2024. This will help farmers reduce a major source of water pollution by improving slurry storage, as well as the use of organic nutrients on farms.
- Supporting farmers with food production by enabling them to store more water on their land – with a second round of the £10 million Water Management Grant to fund more on-farm reservoirs and better irrigation equipment. We will also reduce planning barriers to small reservoirs.
- Leveraging £1 million investment in partnership projects each year to improve chalk catchments to help protect these rare and irreplaceable habitats. This is in addition to taking forward the recommendations from the Chalk Stream Strategy.
- Launching a £6.6 million Lowland Peat Research and Development programme in 2023 to identify the best way to reduce emissions from lowland peatlands.
- Banning sales of wet wipes containing plastic – subject to consultation – and writing to relevant producers and advertising authorities about ‘flushable’ labelling on wet wipe packaging.
- Develop new proposals to restrict the use of ‘forever’ chemicals (PFAS) found in our rivers and seas – including proposals for a ban on PFAS in fire-fighting foams following recommendations made by the Health and Safety Executive.
- Launching a new National Policy Statement on water resources so that key water supply infrastructure – such as reservoirs and water transfer schemes – 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.
- Reducing water demand by encouraging water companies to consider how to rapidly increase smart meter installations for household and non-household customers.
- Changing the law to increase the scope and maximum amount the Environment Agency (EA) can secure in penalties for water companies for damaging the environment. The consultation has launched today, including a preferred option to remove the cap and enable the EA to issue unlimited penalties. This follows recent action from Ofwat to ensure dividends are clearly linked to company performance for customers and the environment, as well as tighter measures on water company executive bonuses.
- Increasing permit charges on water companies to fund more EA water company inspections, with new inspection targets.
- Reviewing and updating the existing memorandum of understanding between the Environment Agency and Ofwat for enhanced joint regulatory oversight of water companies.
Today’s announcement follows the Environmental Improvement Plan in January, the government’s five-year delivery plan to protect and restore nature – including ambitious targets on water. The Integrated Plan for Water shows how we will deliver on those targets.
It also builds on recent action – including the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan published last year, a significant push on monitoring of storm overflows from 7% in 2010 to more than 90% now, and new targets on water companies designed to prioritise key sites like bathing waters.