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Water Supplies and Sewerage

Volume 451: debated on Thursday 2 November 2006

11. What assessment he has made of the need for new reservoirs, water treatment plants and sewage systems. (98810)

Water companies have identified the need for five new and three extended reservoirs in their 25-year water resources plans. Sewerage infrastructure is planned in response to specific proposals in development plans. Water resources plans are due to become a statutory requirement in April 2007.

In Wimbledon this year, my constituents experienced a water shortage and faced a potential drought order from Thames Water Utilities. That underlies the long-term supply problems in south-east London. Last month, the Minister in the other place suggested that people should move further north to solve their water shortages. Can the Minister tell me today that that is not the Government’s only policy on such long-term shortages, or does he have another idea?

Lord Rooker said what he did, and I certainly echo his words about Birmingham and the west midlands being a fantastic place to live, but that is not the sum total of Government policy on the subject. Water companies are required, under the Water Act 2003, which the Conservative party opposed, to produce 25-year water resources plans. The plans are available for public consultation, and the Government will monitor them closely when they become a statutory requirement next April. Thames Water has plans for a new reservoir at Abingdon, and there are other plans to ensure that there is sufficient water to meet demand. There has been a drought as a result of exceptionally dry weather over an 18-month period. That is receding, but it is still not over. I certainly want to continue to encourage people to use water wisely in the Thames area.

A constituency with dozens of reservoirs does not need any new ones, but as my hon. Friend mentioned the resources plan, will he check that all the available powers have been used to monitor the filling of reservoirs, as I have a collection of photographs showing that culverts in my area are full of vegetation, animal matter and boulders, which means that the reservoirs have not been filled to capacity? That waste of resources should be discouraged very strongly.

I agree with my hon. Friend. If she provides me with details, I will make sure that they are passed on to the appropriate individuals so that any action that is required is taken.

Given the Government’s plans to build in the Thames Gateway, what assessment has the Minister made of water needs in the region?

My Department, along with the Environment Agency, works closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government on all the Thames Gateway plans, and we have worked with DCLG very closely indeed on the new growth point announcements. It is important that we ensure close co-operation between the Government and the relevant agencies so that appropriate action is taken if there is a risk of flooding or water shortages. Those measures have been put in place by the Government, and we will continue to scrutinise any proposed new developments to make sure that a water supply is available and to minimise the flood risk.

Whether with flooding in East Anglia, urban biodiversity or the need for water supplies, particularly in the south-east, we have to grapple with adaptation if we are to deal with the effects of climate change—a subject about which, as my hon. Friend knows, I am concerned. Can he assure the House that the issue of new reservoirs, for example, will be referred to the UK climate impact programme research team in Oxford to determine whether we need even more new reservoirs in the south-east as a result of the effects of climate change?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in adaptation and climate change issues. I can certainly confirm that the UK climate impact programme takes into account the fact that, as a result of climate change, wetter winters, far drier summers and more extreme weather events are likely to have an impact on the water supply. That means, I think, that new reservoirs are required in certain areas, but those proposals must be closely scrutinised by the normal channels to make sure that they are needed and deliver value for money in our water bills.