National Policy Statement for Water Resources Infrastructure 2018 - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:13 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 12:13 pm, 11th April 2019

I think that the noble Lord is speaking in the gap, but perhaps I could address those points now. In that passage of the speech, I was taking your Lordships through what may be the range. It may be that I will have to address the crispness of language, but I assure the noble Lord and your Lordships that I will turn in a substantial part of my remarks to the need for further reservoirs. That passage was to say that there will be a range; we will have to assess what its elements will be as we gain more water, as I hope the noble Lord will understand, given his experience on these infrastructural issues. I can fairly confidently say that the next passages of my speech will talk about the fact that, yes, we will need new reservoirs. I hope that that is helpful.

The assessment of options and the choice of the best solutions are made as part of the statutory water resource management planning process. Every five years, the water industry looks ahead at least 25 years into the future to work out how much water will be needed to maintain supplies to customers. Water companies then evaluate all the options, including testing them with customers through consultation, before deciding on the best combination to deliver what is needed. These plans are then assessed by the Environment Agency before publication is approved by the Secretary of State. The most recent round of the process is coming to a conclusion and, despite more ambitious action to reduce demand, it is clear that in the coming decade more infrastructure will need to be built. In total, the infrastructure need in current draft plans broadly meets the deficit of 1 billion litres identified by the National Infrastructure Commission.

The Government, regulators and industry continue to improve the water resource management planning process and are strengthening the national and regional dimension through the Environment Agency’s national framework and the regional group of water companies. Ofwat’s recently established regulatory alliance for progressing infrastructure development will further supplement co-ordination between companies and the identification of appropriate projects.

Some infrastructure schemes will be large enough to qualify as nationally significant and will need to be considered using the national policy statement. The national policy statement itself identifies the national need for schemes of this nature, so it does not need to be demonstrated again through the planning process. This is where one of the main benefits of the Planning Act 2008 regime comes into play, streamlining the planning process for nationally significant infrastructure projects and ensuring timely delivery of schemes that will be vital for securing water supplies.

The national policy statement will apply to certain types of infrastructure that meets criteria set out in the Planning Act 2008. Some of your Lordships may recall that an order amending the Act was debated and agreed in November last year. The national policy statement will apply to infrastructure to facilitate water transfers, desalination plants and reservoirs with a deployable output of 80 million litres per day. Additionally, reservoirs with a physical volume of 30 million cubic metres would be included.

The Government have consulted on the development of this Draft National Policy Statement—a process that was described as exemplary by some of the witnesses who appeared before the EFRA Select Committee. We consulted on our initial approach in November 2017 and on more detailed proposals around the size and type of infrastructure that should be covered in April 2018. In November 2018 we launched a consultation on the Draft National Policy Statement as we laid the document in Parliament. Those responding to the consultation included: water companies; environmental groups, such as Blueprint for Water; local authorities; and organisations that provide advice on planning and infrastructure projects. There was broad support for the need for the statement and its relationship with water resource management plans. We will take into account the responses from consultation and any recommendations that emerge from parliamentary scrutiny when we produce the final national policy statement by the autumn. We will explain how we have done this in the formal government statement of response.

As required by the Planning Act 2008, an appraisal of sustainability has been carried out on the national policy statement alongside a habitat regulations assessment. This significant piece of work formed part of the first consultation in November 2017, incorporating feedback, including that from statutory consultees such as Natural England and the Environment Agency. The national policy statement has incorporated and will continue to be informed by recommendations from the appraisal. The final appraisal is published alongside the final national policy statement.

Having set out the need for infrastructure and the relationship with water resource management plans, the national policy statement sets out assessment principles to guide the examination of applications and more detailed guidance on the construction and operational impacts of the infrastructure types meeting the criteria of the Planning Act 2008. When deciding whether to make an order granting development consent to nationally significant water resources infrastructure projects, the Secretary of State must have regard to the national policy statement. The planning issues set out in the national policy statement that need to be considered in relation to nationally significant infrastructure align with those in the—