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Examination of Witnesses

Part of Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:17 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Stuart Colville:

Do you mind if I add two quick things? First, it is clearly right to have more than one target for water in the Bill. My personal preference would be to have a distribution input target, which is a technical thing that simply measures the amount of water taken away from the environment, whether for residential or commercial purposes or so on. Placing a target aimed at the ecological outcome—or the impact most associated with the ecological outcome, the removal of water—would drive a bunch of incentives and behaviours by water companies and others that would promote good ecological outcomes. There is something there around abstraction that is quite interesting.

There is clearly also something on ecological status or ecology. The targets we inherited from the water framework directive will expire in 2027. We are not really having a debate yet about what should come afterwards. However, if you look at the investment lead times of the water industry, for example, you are talking about 10 or 15-plus years, so we really need to have a debate now about what comes after 2027, regardless of the percentage compliance that we actually achieve under that. We already need to start planning those longer-term investments.

The third area, which is perhaps more difficult, because it is newer, is the idea of public health. All the existing legislative framework around protecting waterways, and the environmental outcomes around waterways, are predicated on the protection of invertebrates and species and biodiversity. If you look at the water framework directive, the urban waste water treatment directive and so on, that is the outcome that they aim at. We are increasingly seeing society expecting to have the ability to bathe, swim and paddle in inland rivers, or to go down to the local pool of water and splash around with a dog or whatever. The gap in how we—the industry and Government regulators—react to that is between whether we take that inherited legislation, which is clearly based on environmental parameters, or whether we think about protecting public health in that environment, because that will trigger a lot of investment and money, and a lot of carbon—