Environment Bill - Committee (6th Day)

– in the House of Lords at 1:30 pm on 7th July 2021.

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Relevant documents: 3rd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee and 4th Report from the Constitution Committee

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Chair, European Union Committee, Chair, European Union Committee, Deputy Chairman of Committees, Chair, European Affairs Committee, Chair, European Affairs Committee

My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask all Members to respect social distancing.

I shall call Members to speak in the order listed. During the debate on each group, I invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I shall call Members to speak in order of request. The groupings are binding. Participants who might wish to press an amendment other than the lead amendment in the group to a Division must give notice in debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I shall collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for, if the Question is put, they must make this clear when speaking on the group.

Clause 78: Drainage and sewerage management plans

Debate on Amendment 162 resumed.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to continue the debate that was adjourned on Monday. In proposing my Amendment 175A, which is to do with blue-green flood-risk management, I follow some excellent speeches on Monday evening, including ones from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on nature-based solutions, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on grey water. Alongside blue-green, these solutions are all about the need for an integrated, holistic system of preserving the water supply and dealing with wastewater and storm-water.

It is obvious to say this: rain is valuable and belongs to nobody, but its supply is limited and therefore it needs to be used sparingly. It is sometimes used too much and sometimes used too little. There is too much of it and too little. In the home, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said—and I certainly support his amendment—separating grey water is a great idea. I have also heard that there is more to do because, apparently, some washing machine manufacturers refuse to guarantee machines if rainwater is used. Obviously, you would not use grey water, but it seems to me that rainwater could be used. Why is it not used? It is another source of water, rather than using processed fresh drinking water.

Putting rain into sewers, which then causes overflowing, adds massively to the carbon footprint with pumping and treatment. I spent some time in the last few years wondering why it was necessary for the Thames Tideway Tunnel to be built—not because I did not want the River Thames cleaned up, but because the evidence shows that the water in the Thames meets all the regulations now and, if it were to be started today, the tunnel would be found to not be needed. This is a £5 billion project and what nobody seems to remember or think is that pumping the water from very deep shafts, as they will be when they get to the end, and treating the water, which is mostly either flood-water or river water, creates an enormous carbon footprint. If blue-green had been started and was working by then, this could have all been avoided. Also, of course, it would have created quite a few jobs locally, less skilled than those needed for the tunnelling and all the other work that goes into the Thames Tideway Tunnel. We must always recognise that big contractors love these big jobs—a bit like HS2—and there is often benefit in having smaller work done by possibly less skilled and local workers.

However, that is a slight diversion and I will explain to the Committee a little more about blue-green. It is the idea of keeping as much rainwater as possible out of the sewers. It is quite simple really. There are several ways of doing it. The first one, and the easiest one for many people to understand, is to make sure that the rainwater drains from the roofs of properties and does not go into the sewerage system. It should go into soakaways. Soakaways are suitable in many areas but in other areas maybe they are not.

You can say the same about the run-off from roads, car parks and other hard surfaces. It does not really matter whether they are municipally owned, government-owned or privately owned. It is quite possible—it has been done in a number of cities in the United States—to convert some of these what you might call waterproof surfaces into more absorbent ones and/or build soakaways underneath parks to reduce the peak flows into sewers, so that some of the peak flow goes into what I am calling soakaways. Of course, you carry on by separating the outcomes from these soakaways from the sewage going to sewerage works. The outcome from the soakaways goes into the watercourses and rivers.

This is much easier to do with new builds but one bit of work done in connection with the Thames Tideway Tunnel alternative was to look at the two foul sewers going round, I think¸ London’s Sloane Street, both of which are mixed rainwater and sewage. It would not have been that difficult to convert one into one and one into the other rather than having both having a mix. Retrofitting is also something to be looked at; it would certainly reduce the water rates in existing properties. For new builds, it is obvious. I hope Ministers will look at that with some interest.

One of the other problems which blue-green obviously has, and some of the other solutions may have as well, is the need for so many different bodies to facilitate them—local authorities, obviously, water companies, river authorities, highways authorities, building control, commercial companies, as well as residents. One also needs to look at a way of incentivising people to want to do this. For example, residents might see a reduction in their water or sewerage charges if they accept not putting their rainwater into the sewers. All these things need looking at.

To conclude proposing my amendment and supporting the other two I mentioned, together, we have given the Minister a good package of measures to reduce floods, sewage overflows and carbon footprints, all of which are achievable at not too high a cost, by different means and in different circumstances. In responding to this group, I hope the Minister says that he will take away my amendment and the other two, and come back with one combined proposal to sort out all these issues to the benefit of the environment, water quality, costs and the environmental footprint.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I will speak to Amendments 192, 193 and 194 in my name and say a few words about the amendments in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I am delighted to support Amendment 175 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which I have co-signed, being an enthusiastic supporter of grey water. Amendment 194A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness, has much to commend it. I think a combination of these amendments will achieve what the Government are trying to do.

I say at the outset that one of the reasons I ask in Amendment 192 for the right to connect to housing developments is that, at the moment, it is not generally recognised that water companies are not statutory consultees on major new developments of 10, 30 or especially more—200 or 300—houses at a time. If the Government are not minded to make them statutory consultees, I hope my noble friend will look at involving local authorities more actively in the drainage and wastewater management plans. I understand that my honourable friend in the other place, Minister Pow, confirmed at the Dispatch Box that all risk management authorities will be required to participate in the drainage and wastewater management plans. I hope my noble friend takes this opportunity to confirm that; otherwise, I might have to bring forward an amendment on it.

I would argue that my Amendments 192, 193 and 194 are supplementary or the other side of the coin to those of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I would go further, actually; the problem with the noble Duke’s amendments is that the major issue with infrastructure and engineering at the moment is that there is no obvious alternative to storm overflows. Huge investment and disruption would be required, even if no practical issues remained, to provide a solution in the timeframe that everybody would like to see. Closing storm overflows without such alternatives would mean a far greater likelihood of properties and businesses flooding during periods of heavy rainfall. I just recount the visits I have made to, among other parts of the country, my own area of North Yorkshire and Cumbria: it is only when you visit people in the midst of a flood that you see how it affects their health, welfare and well-being. Having sewage in your home through a storm overflow is absolutely disgusting.

The cost estimate for replacing storm overflows is £100 billion and it would probably be much more. I welcome the work being done by the storm overflows taskforce, but could my noble friend put a date on when he thinks there would be any prospect at all of storm overflows being replaced and say what he would like to do in the meantime? Any infrastructure-based solution to replace them would be a massive undertaking in disruption and expense, as I have already set out. We have already spoken, on other parts of the Bill, of the ways that many of us contribute, through wet wipes, cotton buds and other products that trigger blockages.

I am wedded to ending the automatic right to connect, as I have set out in Amendment 192. The Water Industry Act provisions on drainage and surface water are based on Victorian approaches to sewage as a public health, rather than an environmental, risk. This Bill is an opportunity to update that part of the legislation—and not before time. With this amendment, alongside other proposed amendments on overflows, I am calling for a government commitment to review the drainage provisions of the Water Industry Act. With my noble friend Lord Caithness’s amendment on the need to review the Water Industry Act provisions, following these discussions, we could work in great harmony to achieve this together.

I move on to sustainable drainage systems and natural flood defences. Either through the amendments I have tabled here or others I intend to bring forward on Report, I would like to see the Environment Bill amend Section 106 of the Water Industry Act to remove the automatic right to connect and impose the application of a drainage hierarchy, together with connection to a combined sewer identified as only the very last resort—which I think my noble friend set out in a Written Answer to me. I would rather not see them connected at all, but I would accept that as the very last resort, as long as they exist. That approach would ensure that surface water is kept separate from foul water and embed a natural-by-default approach to surface water drainage.

I would also like to go further and update planning guidance to make SUDS, sustainable drainage—a great passion of mine—the preferred option for managing surface water in all new developments, rather than just major developments of 10 homes or more, as at present. Accepting the recommendations made to Defra that non-statutory technical standards for SUDS should be mandatory, I would like to introduce a new right to discharge surface water to watercourses and empower sewage undertakings to discharge rainwater down pipes and into soakaways.

The single item that would really move things forward is ending the automatic right to connect. Water companies are powerless to prevent these spillages at the moment, because there is nowhere else for sewage overflows to go when there is immense rainfall, as we have identified. Surface water flooding has been recognised only since 2007. We are binding the hands of water companies behind their backs, and this is the time to end that automatic right. These are three little amendments: Amendment 192 ends the right to connect to housing developments automatically if the water companies cannot say that the infrastructure exists such that there is somewhere for the effluent and sewage to go; Amendment 193 asks for sustainable drainage systems and natural flood defences; Amendment 194 asks that water companies become statutory consultees on housing developments.

I end by recalling why we are here with this Bill. It is, in part, a response to the Pitt review of 2007. There are three key recommendations of that review that have not yet been implemented, whereas we have proceeded to make it easier for developers to build on flood plains and to roll out more houses, which the Government seem to think are priorities.

Recommendation 10 of the Pitt review was:

“The automatic right to connect surface water drainage of new developments to the sewerage system should be removed.”

Recommendation 20 was:

“The Government should resolve the issue of which organisations should be responsible for the ownership and maintenance of sustainable drainage systems.”

That goes to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on retrofitting. I am wedded to SUDS, but the issue of who is responsible for maintaining them is key to making sure they do not contribute to future spills. Recommendation 21 was:

“Defra should work with Ofwat and the water industry to explore how appropriate risk-based standards for public sewerage systems can be achieved.”

This is our last opportunity to make these recommendations real and end the dreadful experience of householders waking up to sewage because, in the current circumstances, there is nowhere else for the wastewater to go.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 1:45 pm, 7th July 2021

My Lords, I support many of the amendments in this group, and my Amendment 194A is on exactly the same theme.

I liked what the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, said on Monday and what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said on Monday about grey water. He is absolutely right, of course: there is no reason why this could not be included in every new building. Indeed, my noble kinsman and his noble friend, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and I were involved in a project at the visitor centre at the Castle of Mey 15 years ago, and we did exactly this. It is perfectly feasible, has worked extremely well and is very beneficial for the environment.

All these amendments deal with a common theme: resilience to climate change. The Climate Change Committee has pointed out how behind the Government are on meeting the problems of resilience. The resilience needs to be improved, not only because we are building more and more roads, houses, commercial buildings and railways but because the weather is changing. The rain is getting heavier and often more localised. I refer again to the floods in the West Country 10 days ago, when whole roads were ripped up by the force of water coming down the hill. Most of that water should have been dealt with in a different way.

My amendment seeks to make surface water management more adequate. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for the amendment he has put forward but, like many others, I do not think it goes far enough. It is a good start, but on Report we need to strengthen it.

We have been quite critical of how our water has been dealt with, but one ought to just pause and thank our Victorian ancestors for building in the way they did. The fact that we can still use most of their system and get away with it in a reasonable fashion is a huge tribute to our ancestors. I hope that in 100 years, future generations will say that this generation was as good as the generation I am talking about, that of our great-great-grandfathers.

My amendment is to take away surface water, whether from new buildings or roads, from the sewage system. There is absolutely no need for it to go into the sewage system. As my noble friend Lady McIntosh said—I thank her for supporting my amendment—there is an automatic right to connect to a sewage system. The water companies are not statutorily consulted but told that a development is taking place and somehow have to meet it. If their system cannot meet it, that is where we have the floods, pollution and destruction of the environment.

My amendment is really very simple. It combines with various others to allow the Government to take a slightly different path. You cannot deal with the whole question of water unless you look at surface water. My amendment is to allow the Government to

“amend the drainage provisions of the Water Industry Act 1991 … to ensure they remain fit for purpose”.

At the moment they are not fit for purpose. There are other, better ways of dealing with it. Considering how much new development is taking place and about to take place, and how much more will take place when we get the—as far as I am concerned—dreaded planning Bill next year, now is the time to nail this problem before it is too late.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, just as in the previous group, in this group there are some really forward-thinking amendments that can go a long way to ending our devastating impact on rivers and the wider environment. Some are so good that I have amendment envy and wish I had thought of them—but obviously two Greens cannot be everywhere, although we do our best.

We all seem to agree here that we currently use water in an extremely illogical way. So much clean, drinkable water is flushed down the loo when there is a really obvious alternative: to not use it. The separation and capture of grey water should be routine, and the Government should make it a requirement in building regs, because the benefits are so blindingly clear.

I operate a grey water system at home, which means flushing the loo with my washing-up water. It is very sophisticated. I walk with the bowl from one room to the other, and it works extremely well. The water out of our sinks is likely contaminated with eco-friendly soap, perhaps dirt from our hands, bits of food and things like that, but it is fine for washing our toilets, watering our gardens, even washing our cars—if you have one—and doing a whole host of other things. This relatively simple system will of course hugely cut down on our water usage and the stresses placed on the sewage system, because we automatically cut down our wastewater by almost half.

When we combine this separation and reuse of grey water with the separation of sewage from drainage, we have a much more sustainable water system. I hope that not very long into the future we will look back on the idea of using clean water to flush our toilets and then mixing it with rainwater, before spending huge amounts of money getting the sewage back out, as almost as illogical and disgusting as throwing our toilet contents out of the windows into the open streets, as used to happen a couple of hundred years ago. In truth, we have actually just made it a bit more complicated and put the sewers underground, but in essence it is the same: we are throwing our sewage into our streets.

This should be a priority for the Government, both at home and around the world. The same solutions that will clean up our sewage system in the UK will help clean, safe water systems elsewhere in the world. We have a responsibility to make sure that other countries have safe water supplies. This does all sorts of things, including reducing the risk of disease for millions of people in other countries. Of course, it also significantly reduces our disastrous impact on the earth’s rivers, lakes and seas.

I keep raising the issue of COP 26 but, quite honestly, we have to have something to take there that we are actually proud of. The rest of the world will be watching. It will not be like the G7; it will be a completely different situation in which other countries will judge us on what we are doing here, and I just hope we can measure up.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I very much support the idea that the automatic right of connection should end. We really need an arrangement that puts pressure on developers to make their developments as friendly to the water system as possible, and an automatic right of connection obviously does not achieve that—so that should be a very fruitful direction to go in.

Has my noble friend looked at the Hampshire County Council nitrates credit scheme? This is a scheme it is putting together so that new housing developments in Hampshire, which would otherwise add to the nitrate burden in rivers and therefore to nitrate pollution in the estuary, can offset that additional pollution by purchasing farmland, which is currently a substantial source of nitrates, and taking that out of production. This is an interesting idea, but I very much hope my noble friend will look at integrating such schemes into the overall direction of the Bill.

First, I do not think it is a good idea that developers should have a simple way around their obligations. They ought to be doing things internal to the development to reduce pollution and the stress on the water system. To allow them to buy their way out of it does not seem desirable. On the other side of things, if we are to take land out of production for these purposes, that absolutely ought to be integrated with the other schemes happening in the Bill—forestry, rewilding, biodiversity gain and so on—not just something that happens randomly on the side. I very much hope that between now and Report my noble friend will be able to take an interest in what Hampshire is up to.

The second issue is looking at what might happen around us in geography such as Eastbourne’s. I have known for a long time that there are schemes to take the output of our sewage plants on the coast, pipe that back inland to make an artificial marsh and then use the outflow of that marsh as part of the water supply, in an area that is currently pretty short of water for new housing. That seems to be something we should support but, given that that is a summer activity, because that is when we are short of water for human use, it also provides a convenient pipeline to use in the other direction in winter: we could use it to take water from a river upstream and pipe it straight down to the sewage outflow on the coast, thereby reducing flooding risk. I very much hope the Minister will be able to tell me that we are looking at such schemes, and to connect me with the officials who are considering them.

We need—in this legislation and otherwise—to do things to get water straight in terms of supply, what we do with wastewater and, in particular, avoiding the levels of river pollution we have seen over recent years. I am delighted that the Government are moving in this direction but I am convinced, as are many others in this debate, that they need to do more.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour 2:00 pm, 7th July 2021

My Lords, wastewater infrastructure in England is a bit of a mess, as many noble Lords have said. I remember that when I came down from Scotland to live in England 40 years ago, I was amazed because in Scotland surface water and foul water were strictly separated. Discovering with horror that the casual intermingling of surface water drainage and sewerage systems was almost the rote in England—a curious mix of some legal stuff and some illegal arrangements—just staggered me.

We have not made much progress in those 40 years. There has been insufficient investment in drainage and sewerage infrastructure, and Ofwat does not always take the consequent environmental problems seriously enough in its price determinations. I welcome the requirement in the Bill for sewerage undertakers to prepare and, hopefully, implement drainage and sewage management plans, but I support Amendment 162A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. It would give these plans an environmental objective, which, hopefully, would encourage Ofwat to agree more investment for environmental purposes.

Amendment 164 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, would end the automatic right to connect, and it has been supported by a number of noble Lords. Water companies need to be able to say no to connecting developments where sewerage systems are already overloaded. The amendment would also kick-start discussions well in advance to ensure that adequate sewage treatment could be provided in appropriate time, at the point where developments can be flexible, and prevent future environmental damage. Amendment 192, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, would have a similar effect, although in the more restricted ambit of major new housing developments.

I am reminded of a dreadful face-off that had to take place between the Environment Agency and the developers of Corby when I was the agency’s chief executive. My noble friend Lord Rooker, who I am deeply grateful is not in his place, was Minister at the time and very keen on the redevelopment of Corby in the interest of jobs. Frankly, he beat me up severely to try to persuade the Environment Agency to provide the necessary licences for that development. Corby was going to increase in size massively but was perched on the top of a tiny, failing Victorian sewerage system that simply would not have coped. The face-off went on for months but eventually resulted in funds being found to improve the sewerage system. The development went ahead, but I must admit that I only ever enter Corby incognito since they appear to have quite long memories in those parts.

I have a particular question for the Minister. On the implementation of drainage and sewage management plans, what assurances can he give that the successive water price rounds, as determined by Ofwat, will provide the right level of funding for drainage and sewage management plans over a reasonably short space of time? Price rounds come round only periodically, and stretching that over several cycles would mean that we were still waiting a very long time for the improvement to our sewerage and drainage systems that needs to be delivered.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, this is an important group of amendments dealing with the improvement of drainage and sewerage systems, and it raises similar issues to the previous group that we debated on Monday evening. I have added my name to Amendments 162 and 163, tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and also signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann.

At Second Reading we heard from various noble Lords across the Chamber about the devastating effect that the discharge of untreated sewage is having on our rivers, waterways and coastal waters. Amendments 162 and 163 seek to ensure that sewage treatment plants are improved and that there is separation of surface water drainage systems and sewerage systems, an issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has just raised.

Water companies must ensure that they are operating within the law, and their priority should be to ensure that no foul water is discharged into rivers and waterways. That must take precedence over shareholder dividends. Apologies to any Members here today who hold shares in the water companies, but cleaning up the state of our waterways has to move higher up the agenda. The noble Duke has also referred to a deferral of dividends.

Water companies have management plans, and it is time that the safe and effective treatment of sewage had equal status with drinking-water quality. The rest of the world, especially the USA, thinks of our country as a green and pleasant land with flowing gentle rivers and streams, when the reality is very different, with raw sewage and waste floating in our rivers and clogging up our streams.

Ofwat has a role to play here, alongside the Treasury and the Secretary of State, in imposing a legal duty on the water companies to clean up their act. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, has spoken about the new drainage and sewage management plans. He encourages sewerage authorities to look positively to nature-based solutions instead of using SUDS. Nature-based solutions must be designed before development begins. The noble Lord also gave graphic details of rubber particles and road oils, which often run off our roads and end up in our rivers. Sewage treatment works are not capable of dealing with these pollutants, so yet another toxic substance enters our waterways.

My noble friend Lord Teverson has spoken of the need for all new buildings to be fitted with greywater systems. This is a far better use of water and reduces the actual demand for freshwater. I too remember the BREEAM standards for all new buildings, promoted by Jonathon Porritt when we were both on the South West of England Regional Development Agency many years ago.

Water is a finite resource and we should reuse it where possible. The housing shortage is acute but so is the need to increase the quality of our rivers and waterways. Conserving and reusing water is all part of ensuring that the country meets its targets on all fronts. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has spoken eloquently about blue-green flood risk management, the collection of rainwater and preventing it from entering the sewerage system.

We all realise that the water authorities are under pressure, but it is time the capacity issue of clean water and sewage disposal was tackled in a cohesive and overarching way. It cannot be acceptable for raw sewage to be discharged into rivers, often where children will swim and play in the summer holidays. If there is insufficient capacity at treatment plants then it is time for infrastructure investment. The Government want to build more much-needed housing. If investment is made in water treatment and sewage disposal then there should be no block on housing development.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has also spoken about the capacity of water treatment plants and the connection of new housing estates. The noble Baroness is correct to identify that there should be a legal obligation to respond for statutory consultees on major new housing developments. They cannot later then say that they do not have the capacity to cope. They must flag this at the start of the process and work with local authorities to ensure that no housing development takes place where the result will be raw sewage discharged into waterways.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has supported ending the automatic right of connection to the sewerage system, and developers should take more responsibility for their actions. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has spoken about the need for resilience in our water management. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has spoken about the using rainwater instead of fresh water.

I look forward to the Minister’s response to this group of amendments, the subject matter of which has been raised several times during our deliberations on this Environment Bill. It is time that we resolved it.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, noble Lords have made some important contributions in this debate. I would like to start by thanking the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for his clear and helpful introduction on Monday evening to his Amendments 162 and 163. As we heard from the noble Duke, these two amendments would embed within drainage and sewerage management plans the requirement to continually improve the sewerage system and reduce the harm caused by wastewater management.

The noble Duke also talked about the importance of improving systems annually, while recognising that the upgrades needed to our drainage and sewerage systems constitute a serious level of investment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, has just said, both the Treasury and Ofwat will have an important role to pay, but as the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, rightly pointed out, this will be a green investment, with an immediate benefit for the environment and for all wildlife. My noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone mentioned the lack of investment over many years; I thought her example of the difference she noticed between England and Scotland when she moved here was really quite striking.

Amendments 162A and 163A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, consider the importance of the new drainage and sewerage management plans to deliver environmental benefits. The noble Lord referred to the dramatic rise in planned housing provision—other noble Lords have mentioned this—and to how important it is that drainage and sewerage plans actually work. His amendment is designed to work not only for customers but for the environment. As he said in his introduction, nature-based solutions should be a compulsory part of the planning system.

Amendment 164, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, would end the automatic right to connect, enabling water companies to decline new connections to the sewerage system where this would cause environmental harm. His introduction, and the wider debate, have shown support for resolving this situation.

In the previous group, on Monday, we debated the Government’s new Amendment 165, on storm overflows. As we heard, this followed the huge support for the proposals contained within Philip Dunne’s Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill in the other place. This is welcome, yet, as my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch laid out, government Amendment 165 falls far short of the ambition of the Private Member’s Bill, which is why the amendments we are debating in this group are necessary and why we support them.

We strongly support putting drainage and wastewater management plans on to a statutory footing. However, within the Bill, we have two particular concerns. First, the Bill confusingly refers to

“Drainage and sewerage management plans”, despite Defra and the industry jointly working on “drainage and wastewater management plans” for many years, and companies already publishing plans with that name. We do not consider this to be a minor point, because the terms “sewerage” and “wastewater” are not interchangeable; “sewerage” has a narrower meaning that excludes many sources of contamination that enters rivers. If drainage plans are to be successful, all areas of contamination must be included.

Also, the Bill places obligations on water companies only for something that they are already doing. This does not reflect the scale of the challenge from climate change, or that drainage is universally recognised to be a shared responsibility, with other organisations also responsible for managing surface water. As written, the plans will exclude significant bodies involved in drainage and eliminate much of the potential benefits that customers, society and the environment could otherwise gain. While water companies will lead the production of DWMPs, and are already committing significant resources in carrying out this role, it is a fundamental feature of drainage and wastewater planning that water companies cannot do this in isolation, because drainage is shared with other risk management authorities, as defined in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.

There are, for example, large numbers of drainage assets that are not under the ownership of water companies, the management of which needs to be integrated into DWMPs. This has been recognised by the National Infrastructure Commission in its recommendation that

“water companies and local authorities should work together to publish joint plans to manage surface water flood risk by 2022.”

Therefore, we need to see within the Environment Bill that all other flood risk management authorities will have a duty to co-operate in the production of DWMPs. There should also be the ability to require other flood risk management authorities to provide any information needed for their production. It would be helpful if regional flood and coastal committees were statutory consultees for DWMPs.

I turn to Amendments 175 and 175A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. The use of grey water systems, blue-green flood risk management systems and other nature-based solutions would keep excess surface water out of sewers. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about why we need to consider rainwater more when we look at our water usage, but also the involvement of catchment partnerships would ensure that we have local input to storm overflow reduction plans. I ask the Minister whether this is being looked at.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, talked about the opportunity to reduce water consumption and the need to improve the future homes standard, which is clearly very important. Many noble Lords have mentioned this, and the Government really need to take note.

Proposed new clauses in Amendments 192, 193 and 194 on water and development, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, are helpful in drawing attention to the impacts of housing development upon the water environment and in highlighting the role that nature-based solutions can play in tackling water pollution and flooding issues. The role that local authorities have to play was particularly mentioned by the noble Baroness, and she talked also about the need for alternatives to storm overflows.

The related proposed new clause in Amendment 194A, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on amending drainage provisions, would require the Secretary of State to amend the drainage provisions of the Water Industry Act 1991, as the noble Lord explained in his introduction. He quite rightly talked about the importance of resilience to climate change and the increasing threat of flooding. We have an amendment on flooding, which will be debated later today. The noble Lord’s amendment would also embed a greater range of purposes in the drainage provisions and better enable the water industry to contribute to the achievement of a range of objectives that the Government have laid out in their 25-year environment plan.

This has been a very interesting debate and I hope the Minister has listened carefully to the very constructive approach from noble Lords on how the drainage and sewerage systems can be improved. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, reminded the Committee, COP 26 will be soon upon us and so the world’s eyes are looking at what we are doing for our environment. Improving our rivers and water systems is one way we could show real leadership as a country. I await the Minister’s response with interest.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 2:15 pm, 7th July 2021

I thank all noble Lords for their thoughtful and helpful contributions on these important issues.

The drainage and sewerage management plans introduced by Clause 78 will deliver improvements for both customers and the environment. They will be produced at least every five years and cover a 25-year planning horizon, enabling sewerage undertakers to develop and maintain a complete picture of their networks, including their capacity and the future demands on them. This is essential for undertakers to understand risks to their networks, their customers and the environment, and to develop mitigations to address them.

Regarding Amendments 162 and 163 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, Amendment 164 from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and Amendment 192 from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the Government wholeheartedly agree that water companies must improve their drainage and sewerage systems and report on discharges. It is for this reason that Clause 78(3) sets out the specific matters that drainage and sewerage management plans must address. Plans must provide an assessment of the sewerage undertaker’s drainage and sewerage system capacity, including “current and future demands”, as well as its resilience. The sewerage undertaker must set out in the plan how it will maintain an effective system of sewerage and drainage and when any necessary actions with regard to this will be taken.

Paragraph 681 of the Bill’s Explanatory Notes makes it explicitly clear that

“environmental risks will include storm overflows and their impact on water quality.”

The relevant Ministers may also make directions specifying additional matters that must be addressed by the plan. I want to be clear that the Government will not hesitate to use this power of direction if any sewerage undertaker’s plans fall short. The Government are also clear that sewerage undertakers must be transparent. Clause 78(5) requires sewerage undertakers to review their plans annually and

“send a statement of the conclusions of its review to the Minister.”

In addition, the new government amendments to the Bill, which we discussed on Monday, will further commit English sewerage undertakers to report annually on storm overflow activity.

Finally, the plans will facilitate collaboration between sewerage undertakers, local authorities and developers to understand proposed new housing developments and possible future pressures that may be placed on an undertaker’s system. Drainage and wastewater management plans will be taken into account for the first price review and every subsequent review. My understanding is that work on the next review begins pretty much immediately after the first review is finished. I say that in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, who I think raised that issue.

I move to Amendments 162A, 163A, 175A, 193 and 194A from the noble Lords, Lord Cameron of Dillington and Lord Berkeley, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and my noble friend Lord Caithness. The Government are clear that we expect plans to deliver for both customers and the environment. I am pleased to inform noble Lords that the UK Government, the Welsh Government, Ofwat, the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales will shortly be issuing joint guidance to undertakers making it clear that we expect them to consider green infrastructure and nature-based and low-carbon solutions when mitigating risks.

As I said on Monday, our view is very much that, where a nature-based solution exists, it must be the default. In these days of tightened budgets and reduced access to resources, it is incumbent upon government to make sure that when we purchase a solution, it delivers in the broadest possible way and, almost every time, that is a nature-based solution. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, who made a very passionate case for nature-based solutions. Clause 78 must therefore be as broad as possible to enable all this to continue as plans are placed on a statutory footing. Again, I reassure noble Lords that the Government will not hesitate to make directions to undertakers specifying additional matters that must be addressed by the plans if they are inadequate.

I emphasise that it is current government policy that nature-based solutions should be considered first, as I said earlier. The Government promote the use of blue-green infrastructure, such as sustainable drainage systems, grey water recycling and natural flood management. Indeed, the National Planning Policy Framework already ensures that blue-green infrastructure is provided in all new developments unless there is clear evidence that this would not be appropriate, and it should be given priority in new developments in flood risk areas.

Last year, the Government also published the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management: Policy Statement, which sets out our long-term ambition to create a nation more resilient to these increasingly unpredictable risks. The statement sets out our commitment to

“double the number of government funded” flood management projects, which includes natural flood management. Alongside this, the Government’s Storm Overflows Taskforce, set up to eliminate harm from storm overflows, is considering a number of drainage issues including blue-green infrastructure, and will be reporting in the summer.

I take this opportunity to add a response to a comment that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, on this issue right at the end of the debate on Monday. He suggested that I had dismissed the possibility of eliminating harm from storm overflows on the basis that it would be too expensive. That really is not at all what I said. I pointed out the estimated cost, which is anything from

“£200 billion to £500 billion”.—[Official Report, 5/7/21; col. 1137.]

We do not know exactly how much it is going to cost. It is therefore surely right that a Minister standing at the Dispatch Box should not casually accept an amendment that would lead to that scale of investment over an unknown period. However, we are committed to tackling this area and are doing the work to inform the appropriate policy steps. Like all noble Lords who have spoken on this issue, we do not regard it as acceptable that sewage is poured into our waterways and water systems.

The Government’s environmental land management schemes also have reduction of flood risk as one of the key outcomes eligible for public money. The Government have committed to delivering an integrated approach to managing water, and the actions I have outlined will support water quality, flood risk management and climate resilience goals to protect communities and the environment. They will also contribute towards the Government’s commitment to the UN’s global sustainable development goals.

Regarding Amendment 194 tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, water and sewerage undertakers and internal drainage boards maintain strong relationships and engagement with local authorities in relation to planning. This helps identify significant future developments long before formal planning consent is sought for them and enables early discussion.

Clause 78 provides for regulations as to

“the persons to be consulted” on drainage and sewerage management plans. The meaning of “persons” is very broad and will enable the Government to set out in regulations all existing statutory consultees as well as a range of other stakeholders to be consulted. As water companies will co-operate with developers and local authorities in the preparation of their drainage and sewerage management plans, this will help mitigate the impacts of automatic connection by planning better for future housing developments. I say that in response to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, who rightly raised that issue.

Also, for my noble friend’s benefit, regarding the assurance provided by my honourable friend in the other place, Rebecca Pow, I can reconfirm and reissue that assurance here in front of this Committee. Under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, water and sewerage companies and a number of other bodies are statutory flood-risk management authorities and therefore must co-operate with each other. To avoid any possible doubt, we are committed to preparing an amending statutory instrument to ensure that it is crystal clear.

I will respond very briefly to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. We refer to drainage and sewerage management plans in the Bill because that is the wording used in the Water Industry Act, which this Bill amends. I am assured that it means the same thing in real terms and there is no discrepancy.

Regarding Amendment 175 from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I am pleased to say that my right honourable friend the Environment Secretary last week published a Written Ministerial Statement on reducing water demand. This announced actions the Government will take in response to the 2019 consultation on measures to reduce personal water consumption. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, this includes plans in 2022 to

“develop a roadmap towards greater water efficiency in new developments and retrofits”, including through building regulations and using new technologies to meet these standards. I am happy to confirm that we will be considering the use of grey water recycling further as part of this work.

The lead department in relation to planning is of course not Defra but MHCLG, and I am in regular discussions with that department, as is my noble friend Lady Bloomfield. I have been asked by the Secretary of State for MHCLG to help identify things that need to be included in building regulations that will further add to protections of the environment, not just in relation to water but to a whole range of biodiversity and nature-related issues. That is an invitation that I and Rebecca Pow will greedily accept.

We will also ensure that any relevant underlying legislation can, where appropriate, accommodate any potential future expansion of rainwater harvesting as well as other water reuse and storage options. I hope that the details I have set out about how the measures in this Bill and future actions will interlock with and support other areas of government policy on water management have been helpful. Sustainable management of water delivers multiple benefits to society and the environment. I thank noble Lords for their contributions and hope that I have shown that the Government have listened. I respectfully ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 2:30 pm, 7th July 2021

My Lords, I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, I apologise for not being able to participate in the earlier discussion. I thank my noble friend for his clear response and for the meeting that he held. Will he clarify the Government’s thinking? Clause 78 requires a plan and an annual review, but who takes responsibility for the urgent action needed to control not just storm overflows but other discharges that are polluting our rivers? What will plans entailing long-term action mean for the Government’s expectation of how this will work? I know that my noble friend passionately agrees that we must deal with this issue. Will he commit to having further discussions with all interested noble Lords?

I thank my noble friend, as I will call him, the Duke of Wellington for all the work he has done to address the issue of who should take responsibility for the urgent action and financing needed to improve this situation and to invest the necessary resources to avoid or reduce polluting our rivers year by year. This could be done together with Ofwat, possibly by passing the costs of sewage waste on to household and commercial water bills. At the moment, it seems that people do not really focus on the costs of the waste they generate: it is waste, it is gone and therefore it does not feature, as it would if there were a perceived or actual cost. Perhaps the Minister would agree to meet to discuss this possibility.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her useful intervention. She is right: the cost of pollution rarely features on the balance sheet. Her suggestion that, in order to move forward, we need to find a way of internalising those costs is spot on. It is also the main thesis of the Dasgupta review. She asked who will be responsible: ultimately, the water companies will need to improve their act in order to prevent pollution of our waterways, but it is for the Government to set the framework and the rules. It is not the Government who will deliver the solution on the ground: that will be for the water companies and they will be required to do so. She also asked if I would be willing to meet. Yes, of course, I would be happy to meet her, my noble friend the Duke of Wellington and anyone else who has a particular interest in this issue. I am very keen to get this right.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, I thank the Minister for assuring us that he is talking to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government about greywater and other related issues. I ask him to work really hard on this, because the longer it goes on, the more homes—hundreds of thousands—will be built that are not up to the standards that probably everybody in this House wants, including the Minister. Can he give us some idea of when we will get the new standards up and running, be it on greywater, flooding, heat conservation, net zero, or keeping houses cool in the future when temperatures rise? This is urgent, and housebuilders need to get on with it.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am not sure that I can give the noble Lord a date, because that is not in the hands of Defra and certainly not in in mine. I can absolutely offer him an assurance, however. There are an enormous number of things that need to be done to building regulations in order to maximise the chance for nature to flourish, to tackle water waste, and to slow down the flow of surface water to prevent flooding. The list goes on and on. I am certainly not an expert: I have ideas of my own, but I am talking to a number of people outside government who really are experts. I am harvesting the best possible ideas and suggestions for building regulations. I cannot guarantee that I will win every argument, but I extend that invitation to Members of this House. If people have ideas about things that should be included—particularly for new-builds, but also retrofit—I will gratefully receive them because I am in the market for ideas.

Photo of The Duke of Wellington The Duke of Wellington Crossbench

My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate, which was interrupted, unfortunately, on Monday evening. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I was very struck by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the difference between Scotland and England in the treatment of wastewater. I must admit that I had not known that. I hope that the Minister and his officials will take note of that discrepancy and consider it an additional indicator of how much we still have to do in England to improve our systems.

I am obviously disappointed that the Government are not yet prepared to place an immediate legal obligation on the water companies to begin to improve, and continue to improve, their treatment plants. I am pleased that the Minister has indicated that he is prepared to meet further. It would be helpful if we could find amendments that are more acceptable to the Government, because I sense a strong cross-party consensus in the House that we have to do more than the Bill currently proposes. I particularly hope that the Government will consider doing more along the lines of the amendments of my noble friend Lord Cameron, on nature-based solutions, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on greywater systems.

There were many good parts to this debate, but the best part was the clear recognition throughout the House that we must do more to clean up our rivers. The Minister has mentioned again this afternoon the disturbingly high estimated cost of upgrading the systems: between £200 billion and £500 billion. Obviously, that is an alarming figure. Is he prepared to write to me explaining how that figure was arrived at? Clearly, the country as a whole would have great difficulty financing that. Nevertheless, we must deal with the problem. It has been a helpful debate, along with the debate we had on Monday evening about storm overflows, but in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 162 withdrawn.

Amendments 162A to 164 not moved.

Clause 78 agreed.