Mixed picture of environmental ambition from England’s water companies

Date posted: 29 January 2019

A mixed picture in terms of environmental ambition and commitment in the business plans published by England’s water companies have been revealed by new scorecards published today by Blueprint for Water – a coalition of around 18 organisations, including MCS, working to develop solutions to the water issues facing England.

Beach outflow pipes
© Sacha Fernandez

The scorecards have analysed how successful water company plans for the next five years are likely to be in protecting and improving the environment.

The review of the companies’ main business plans revealed that of the water-and-sewerage companies Northumbrian Water, South West Water, and Anglian Water best meet the environmental benchmarks set by the Blueprint for Water NGOs. Northumbrian Water, South West Water and Southern Water do best in terms of their ambition on those common commitments required by OFWAT that are most relevant to the environment. Southern Water and Wessex Water have the greatest number and coverage of bespoke performance commitments relevant to the environmental measures set-out by the coalition.

However, Thames Water and Severn Trent are at the bottom of the rankings both in terms of the review of what their business plans say on environmental matters and on the level of ambition of their common commitments on issues such as pollution and leakage.

For the water-only companies South East Water is the standout performer closely followed by Sutton and East Surrey.

Blueprint for Water have awarded a small number of ‘Blue stars’ to recognise the level of ambition of certain companies’ flagship projects. These schemes are industry-leading and will, the NGOs hope, generate learning which can be shared across the industry.

Hannah Freeman, Chair of Blueprint for Water, said: “We’ve seen a welcome and notable increase in environmental ambition from water companies in their most recent financial plans. However there’s still a long way to go, with too many severe pollution events and untreated sewage entering our waterways and well over a thousand Olympic- sized swimming pools of water leaked from pipes every day. We want all future plans to routinely factor in enhancing the natural capital that water companies rely on, to help both business and nature to thrive.”

Rachel Wyatt, MCS Water Quality Manager, says: “It’s good news that the scorecards published today generally show increased environmental ambition by water companies, including actions to improve bathing waters, development of long term wastewater plans and investigating emerging pollutants like microplastics. However we must see further ambition to stop pollution events which can impact rivers, seas and beaches. We will continue to work with water companies on projects such as our wet wipe campaign to ensure that everybody understands the impact that misusing our sewers can have on our marine environment.”

More than £5 billion will be invested by water companies in environmental improvements over the next five years. This includes over 350 catchment management projects to deal with environmental problems at source rather than ‘end-of-pipe’; commitments to reduce leakage by more than 15%; to lower water demand and to deal with pollution incidents and unsustainable abstraction.

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