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Drought Orders

Volume 457: debated on Thursday 8 March 2007

8. What assessment he has made of the effect of recent rainfall on the need for new drought orders in summer 2007. (125913)

The UK has had six months of above average rainfall. The outlook for water supply is much improved and the likelihood of drought orders this summer is therefore low. However, we will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Coming from the infamously rainy Greater Manchester, we often wonder about the need for drought orders at all.

One of the main factors in these problems is that of water leaks. What pressure is my hon. Friend’s Department putting on the water companies to ensure that they tackle that issue by reaching their water leakage targets and improving the infrastructure so that in future years we do not have the same problems?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the issue of leakage, which is the system’s Achilles heel. Most water companies are meeting the leakage targets that have been set by Ofwat; some, however, are not, and that is simply unacceptable. We expect Ofwat, as the regulator, to take a robust approach with companies that successively fail to meet their leakage targets. I have also asked it to undertake a review of the system of setting leakage targets, which does not command the confidence or understanding of the general public. In future, issues of sustainable water use must be clearly built into that system. I expect Ofwat to report later this year about sustainable leakage levels.

I am even further north than the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), and we are more interested in building arks than in introducing drought orders.

The Minister will know that there has been a significant increase in population in the United Kingdom over the past 10 years. Has he made any assessment of the extra pressure that that has put on demand for water?

I am also the Minister for floods, so I take the hon. Gentleman’s point.

On new housing, I assure the hon. Gentleman that new housing development is taken into account by water companies as part of their planning process. Water companies produce 25-year water resource management plans. That process is being put on a statutory basis from the beginning of next month. The public will have an opportunity to comment on those plans, which will be available and transparent, as well as on new housing development. We must ensure not only that we move to zero-carbon homes within 10 years but that we have homes that are far more water efficient. That is one of the key Government objectives for the future.

Yet again, we have had a series of questions and answers on climate change dealing with only half the equation. We have talked about the causes of climate change but said almost nothing, until this question, about addressing its effects, such as wetter winters and drier summers. I salute my hon. Friend’s comments about water leakage and sustainable water supplies. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that more reservoirs are built in southern England to deal with the droughts that have already started and will get considerably worse as the effects of climate change, inevitable as they are, bite upon us?

My hon. Friend is right to point to the importance of adaptation to climate change. Even if we succeed in our objective of avoiding dangerous climate change through gaining international agreement, a certain amount of it is already built into the system and needs to be taken into account for planning purposes. The 25-year water resources plans are designed to encourage water companies to take a long-term view and examine the balance of water supply and demand. We expect them to introduce proposals for new reservoirs when that is appropriate, but we also expect them to take action on leakage and consider other demand reduction options as well as to increase supply. Water companies’ current plans include constructing several reservoirs in the future. Those plans will be subject to consultation, and the Government will take a view on them.