The much discussed Water Bill 2013-2014 was introduced in the UK House of Commons on 27 June 2013 and is now awaiting a date for a second reading in Parliament. The majority of the Bill extends to England and Wales only. The flood insurance provisions in Part 4 of the Bill are however UK wide.
There are four main parts to the bill:
- Water Industry (Part 1)
- Water Resources (Part 2)
- Environmental Regulations (Part 3)
- Flood Insurance (Part 4)
Part 1 addresses the reform of the water industry and has at its heart the aim of increasing competition in the water industry by making significant amendments to the Water Industry Act 1991. Changes to the Water Industry Act include ensuring that water resources management plans proposed by the water undertakers provide for resilience of our water supply and resources particularly in times of drought. There is also a change to the frequency of these plans (and also drought plans) which must now be prepared on a maximum 5 yearly cycle.
Part 2 contains some key amendments to the Water Resources Act 1991 to place an emphasis on water undertakers to ensure sustainable abstraction of water. The ability of water undertakers to claim compensation for their losses resulting from the variation or revocation of their abstraction licences (by either the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers following recommendations from regulators such as the Environment Agency) has also been removed.
The water undertakers could previously be compensated for any expenditure they had made on work which became abortive as a result of the variation/revocation of a licence or for any other loss or damage directly attributable to the revocation or variation of a licence. This change applies to impoundment licences as well as abstraction licences.
In the future, water undertakers will therefore have to consider sustainability as part of their main stream business planning process and recover any costs they incur from changes to their licences through OFWAT’s price review process.
Part 3 deals with environmental regulation and confirms that the legal regime in relation to water abstraction licences, water impoundment licences, flood defence consents and fish passes and screens will all fall under the Environmental Permitting (“EP“) regime under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 (as amended). This inclusion of abstraction and impoundment within the EP regime has long been anticipated but has been slow in coming. The EP regime is a single unified permitting regime which is aimed at trying to simplify and avoid duplication of environmental licensing and permitting regimes by using one common framework. This regime allows a range of activities to be covered by a single permit.
Part 4 deals with flood insurance and new proposals for this have been dealt with in some detail by an earlier blog on this site (Up the Creek).
The changes brought in by the Water Bill have been long awaited in many quarters. In particular, the change to include abstraction and impoundment within the EP regime is a key part of simplifying environment regulation as a whole.
However, whilst many of the changes are to be welcomed from an environmental management perspective, we still await a definite timescale of when this Bill is likely to come into force and experience tells us the wait can be long.