MPs recommend reviews of flood strategy and water charging

The Government needs to revisit the way in which households pay for water and conduct a cost-benefit study of water metering, MPs concluded following an inquiry of the Commons' Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.1 The report also urges the Government to produce a White Paper on flooding and to explore alternative ways of tackling flood risk should the insurance industry declare areas to be uninsurable.

The Committee's inquiry into climate change, water security and flooding took evidence in April and May this year. Witnesses included representatives of the water industry, the Environment Agency, the Association of British Insurers and the Government's chief scientist David King.

The impacts of climate change on water supply and flooding are both frequently studied areas and it is little surprise that the Committee came up with little new. Perhaps its most useful conclusion was that the Government needed to look again at the way in which householders pay for water.

Climate change will mean drier summers and wetter winters for the UK, the Committee heard, putting increasing pressure on water supplies. It considered that the Government needs to raise public awareness on the value of water and the danger of water scarcity.

However, the Government also needs to reconsider the "outdated" rateable value system by which most households still pay for water. "We must move towards more rational use of water: linking the cost to the amount of water used is an important step towards this goal," the Committee concluded.

Rather than recommending that increased water metering replace rateable value charging, MPs expressed concern that everyone should be able to afford enough water to meet their basic needs. They called on the Government to re-evaluate alternative pricing mechanisms and to "relate the costs of usage more directly to the consumer".

Without some form of metering, it is not clear how this could be achieved - indeed MPs asked that a cost-benefit study of metering be included in the study, while indicating that careful consideration was needed of the impact on the poor.

The Committee suggested that the Government also comes forward with proposals for increasing household water efficiency, tightening building regulations and promoting non-potable uses for grey water and rainwater. Water companies also need to improve further their record on leakage.

On flooding, the Committee refers to the Office of Science and Technology's Foresight report, published in April.2 The MPs recommend that the Government responds by producing a White Paper outlining its strategy for dealing with the increasing flood risk and detailing how the strategy will be funded.

The MPs also recognised the increasing risk of sewer flooding as more intense rainfall events put increasing pressure on existing sewerage systems. Ofwat should include the expense of upgrading sewers in its price limits, the Committee recommends, and the Government should encourage the use of sustainable urban drainage systems, which might take some pressure off sewers.

The report also expressed surprise that Ofwat had not already begun to allow companies to include the costs of managing climate change in their plans for the coming asset management period.

The MPs were concerned that some areas of the country would become uninsurable as flood risks increase through climate change. They advised the Government to identify the areas at greatest risk and explore alternative ways in which affected people might manage their flood risks.

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