Rivers Trust responds to Government statement to say environment is priority ‘for the first time’

In a statement issued to the press, Rivers Trust has welcomed the prioritisation of the environment ‘for the first time’ in Defra’s latest Strategic Policy Statement (SPS) for Ofwat.

Rivers Trust suggests the regulator has previously been too narrowly focused on keeping costs down in the short-term, with little regard for long-term impacts on the environment and the legacy for future generations.

They hope this new emphasis on long-term thinking, innovation, and partnership working to drive improvements across water catchments will allow the water sector to play a stronger role in environmental improvement and nature recovery. However, they have concerns that the SPS is not yet ambitious enough, and still lacks clarity on how Ofwat should regulate a fundamental shift in trade-offs.

They believe that if the industry engages with environmental experts such as Rivers Trusts to deliver ecosystem services, multiple benefits for people and wildlife is achievable including increased flood resilience, protection for priority habitats such as chalk streams, and cleaner, more plentiful water.

Mark Lloyd, CEO of The Rivers Trust, said: “We welcome that the protection and enhancement of the environment is now at the top of the list of OFWAT’s priorities. This will not be achieved by simply spending more money on traditional approaches by the water companies alone. We also therefore welcome the emphasis in the SPS on nature-based solutions and catchment-based partnerships with other sectors, which will deliver wider benefits to society and best value to customers.

“To make this a reality, we need better data to drive consensus about the pressures on the environment.  We need a clear governance structure to set priorities and identify opportunities at a local level which can then bring together multiple streams of funding at a regional and national scale.  This statement is encouraging, but the objectives will only become a reality if the government joins up the many plans into a more coherent and focussed collective sense of purpose.”

Rob Collins, Director of Science and Policy at the Rivers Trust, said: “The expectation of greater transparency and data sharing by water industry is to be welcomed but clarity is required as to the mechanisms for achieving that. Furthermore, successfully achieving these strategic priorities requires Ofwat to establish timelines and quantifiable targets against which progress can be measured.”

Christine Colvin, Director for Partnerships and Communications, said: “This represents a very fundamental shift in how Ofwat will regulate the trade-offs made in the sector. It is clear that pollution, particularly from sewage, will no longer be tolerated. However, some of the language is a concern. There is too much focus on Ofwat ‘challenging’, ‘encouraging’, and ‘pushing’ the water sector for change. Ofwat is the regulator, not a cheerleader for water companies. We need more specifics on enforceable mechanisms.”

Amina Aboobakar, Commercial Director for The Rivers Trust, said: “Overall, this is an improvement on the previous version. We have a clearer ambition for progressive reductions in storm overflows, it asks for more accountability and more data sharing across stakeholders (with the mechanisms yet to be determined), more focus on long-term planning, better connection between environmental and regulatory processes, achieving zero serious pollution incidents by 2030, and more inclusion of nature-based solutions and greener approaches.”

“However, it needs to be more ambitious. It fails to specify the need for transformational change, provides no direct guidance around investment gaps in failing/ageing infrastructure and how this is to be addressed through the Price Review, and for the need for water companies to drive more environmental resilience.”



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