01308 898538


The City Water Debate Go with the flow: working with nature and managing catchments, Bakers’ Hall

There was a great turnout from the Company and sector for the third in our prestigious series of City Water Debates.  Organised around World Water Day it was close to 1st April, the 50 year anniversary of the formation of the regional water authorities, based on river basins and catchments.  They are still the fundamental building blocks of the organisation of the water companies and the Environment Agency.

We had a high profile panel of speakers:

  • Bart Schoonbaert (Associate Director, Arup)
  • Rt Hon Ruth Kelly PC (Chair, Water UK)
  • Mark Lloyd (Chief Executive, The Rivers Trust)
  • Richard Bramley (Chair, Environment Forum, National Farmers’ Union)
  • Peter Simpson (Chief Executive, Anglian Water)

They tackled a wide range of issues including:

  1. the scope for a different, less carbon-intensive and more environmentally sustainable nature-based approach for managing future water sector needs
  2. with joint working by many partners, what are the best models for financing and delivering such solutions – how will we make it happen?

There was strong support for nature based water planning and an integrated approach to water management.  More devolution was required from the centre, away from top down control, poorly designed targets, and not nature friendly solutions.  Currently there is a block on innovative solutions, with no new techniques or ways of working.  A situation that has continued for the past 50 years and is desperately in need of reform.  There must be a shift to regulatory actions in different locations, which reflect local needs, accountable to local partners.  We needed catchment advisory boards.

There was no shortage of pilots – the sector had more pilots than Heathrow.  We heard many positive examples of initiatives but if there was going to be real change they needed substantially scaling up.  Vast sums needed to be spent and it was challenging at a company and UK plc level to raise the capital required.  Meanwhile there was a deepening nature and climate crisis.  Sustainable land use was needed which included agriculture and highways.

Nature based solutions offer a plethora of benefits to plant, animal and human health.  The water regulatory system has not evolved to address societal needs.  The Environment Agency is under huge pressures, with insufficient resources or data required to deliver.  There was a failure to optimise expenditure and respond to planning needs.  A collaborative catchment approach was needed to deliver an environmental improvement plan.  Decisions must be made locally, practical targets set and delivered.  Someone needs to be put in charge of the institutions with an interest, eg farming, regulators, drainage boards.

While nature based solution pilots by water companies were great, they lacked scale, governance and integration into mainstream thinking.  There is a need for major new reservoirs in England and they should be part of the water system, linked with the supply of water, management of wastewater and tackling flooding.  A faster planning process was required.

Then the panel were challenged by questions from the audience.

It was a very successful evening.  Grateful thanks to our Clerk, Christine Duthie, for the arrangements and Andrew Williamson for the communications.  Thanks to our Chair, Colin Drummond, our distinguished panel of speakers, and everyone who has contributed to the debate.

Post a comment

Discover more from The Worshipful Company of Water Conservators

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Skip to content