Ofwat: Strategic Priorities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:42 pm on 9th June 2022.

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Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 2:42 pm, 9th June 2022

I bow to the hon. Lady’s knowledge of her constituency and the area around it. I am informed that the tideway tunnel will take 37 million tonnes of the 39 million tonnes of sewage currently discharged annually into the Thames out of the river, so it may not affect every single treatment plant, and it is primarily coping with the north of the Thames rather than the south of the Thames, as I understand it. I will touch on how it is being paid for in a moment.

Given Ofwat’s unique opportunity to approve capital investment, it needs to focus not only on the economic impact of household bills but on the environmental impact that water companies have. With the rising cost of living, none of us wishes to see bills rising sharply, but equally, if water rates are set so low as to preclude necessary capital investment in water quality, we will simply kick the can down the road for another five years and the problem will be harder to solve and more expensive to fix.

Given that the current cost of capital is still at historically low interest rates, over a multi-decade investment cycle water companies remain well placed to fund significant capital investment. For example, the tideway tunnel, the biggest current project, is due to add only £19 per annum to household bills in London. I believe that a balance can be found as regards Ofwat’s new priority for water companies to improve treatment in addition to the necessity to secure adequate drinking supply and have low bills.