Benyon takes over as chair of UK Water Partnership

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The UK Water Partnership’s appointment of ex-water minister Richard Benyon has been welcomed by insiders, as former Environment Agency chair Lord Chris Smith steps down

Former Labour MP and Environment Agency (EA) chair Chris Smith has stepped down as chair of the UK Water Partnership (UKWP) after less than six months at its helm.

He is to be replaced by Conservative MP Richard Benyon on 10 October.
The government-business partnership, set up in March, aims to improve coordination on water scarcity and adaptation.

Its members include Arup, British Water, DEFRA, HR Wallingford, Innovate UK, the Met Office, the Natural Environment Research Council and Severn Trent Water.

The group also wants to seize a larger share of the $500bn global water technology market.

Benyon has an extensive background in water, having served as water minister from May 2010 to October 2013. He also sat on the Environmental Audit Committee from July 2010 to November 2013.

His sacking as part of a ministerial reshuffle came as a surprise to many in the industry considering his significant achievements during his time in the department. These included helping to push for a ban on discards under EU fisheries policy and developing proposals for biodiversity offsetting.

Jacob Tompkins, managing director at water efficiency campaign group Waterwise, is keen to see him back in the frame, claiming “he set the mood music around water and its importance”.

Among Benyon's achievements as water minister, Tompkins said highlights included his handling of the 2012 drought, his “personal support” for the southern metering programme, and his push for abstraction reform.

His cross-party appeal could also stand him in good stead, says Tompkins. “[Benyon] is seen as knowledgeable and someone who does the right thing and is not particularly swayed by party politics too much.”

Lord Smith stepped down from his position as the head of the EA last September after six years, amidst criticism of the body’s response to flood events.

In a statement, UKWP said Smith had “helped to shape and launch the UKWP” and remained “very committed to the aims and goals” of the partnership.

His decision to step down coincides with his recent appointment as Master of Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge.

“[UKWP] has made real strides in bringing together the many water research, industry and user communities to help focus their efforts toward innovation, growth and export opportunities,” said Smith.