DEFRA promises floods and water Bill

Environment Minister Phil Woolas announced plans for a Bill to reduce the risks of flooding and promote water charging by meter on Tuesday

Key features of the Bill will be to give the Environment Agency overall responsibility for flood risk management in England, while leaving local authorities in charge of surface water flooding.

The package represents a new approach to the management of surface water and river flooding risks. It comes in response to the Pitt review’s interim report on last summer’s floods, released in December last year. This highlighted the need to manage surface water flood risks, which affected two thirds of the 57,000 homes flooded.

The Bill will update flooding legislation and clarify the responsibilities of local authorities, internal drainage boards and water companies.

“Local authorities have a vital role to play, and under the Agency’s overview they will be supported to take the lead on the ground,” Mr Woolas said. “We are prepared if necessary to back this up by providing authorities with the powers to ensure that organisations and landowners responsible fulfil their obligations; for example by maintaining drains.”

The Bill will also enable the shift to water charging by meter. “I am persuaded by the case that we need to have near universal metering, with a system of tariffs to make it as fair as it can be,” the minister said. “We have passed the tipping point where those without a meter are currently subsidising those with them.”

Other outstanding issues to be included will be legislation to time limit all abstraction licences and extend the scope of hosepipe bans – allowing more activities to be prohibited by water companies during droughts. Tighter inspection rules on reservoir inspection and safety are also planned.