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New environmental scorecards reveal good news but gaps in water company five-year plans

Blueprint for Water publishes environment assessments of water companies' PR19 business plans.

29 January 2019

New scorecards, analysing how successful water company plans for the next five years are likely to be in protecting and improving the environment, have been published today (Tues 29 Jan) by Blueprint for Water, part of the Wildlife and Countryside Link nature coalition.[1] This environmental review of the firms’ plans comes just days before OFWAT publish their Initial Assessment of the Business Plans on 31 January 2019.

The scorecards, and the detailed analysis behind them[2], reveal a mixed picture in terms of environmental ambition and commitment in the business plans published by England’s water companies in September 2018. Blueprint for Water says they have seen a ‘positive step change in environmental ambition from the water sector’ in this planning cycle compared to the previous PR14 business plans. However, despite progress by the water sector, the analysis has highlighted key areas which need action from companies; including:

• factoring the value of natural capital into all water companies’ planning and decision making by PR24;
• going further to ensure significant pollution incidents do not occur, including better monitoring and self-reporting;
• greater efforts to incentivise customers to reduce their water consumption;
• a much stronger public voice from water companies on policy issues that affect the interests of their customers and the environment they depend on to operate

The review of the companies’ main business plans revealed that, of the water-and-sewerage companies, Northumbrian Water, South West Water, and Anglian Water best meet the environmental benchmarks set by the NGOs. Northumbrian Water, South West Water and Southern Water do best in terms of their ambition on those common commitments required by OFWAT that are most relevant to the environment. Southern Water and Wessex Water have the greatest number and coverage of bespoke performance commitments relevant to the environmental measures set-out by the coalition.

For the water-only companies South East Water is the standout performer closely followed by SES Water. Blueprint have also awarded a small number of ‘Blue stars’ to recognise the level of ambition of certain companies’ flagship projects. These schemes are industry-leading and will, the NGOs hope, generate learning which can be shared across the industry.

Thames Water and Severn Trent Water are at the bottom of the water-and-sewerage company rankings, both in terms of the review of what their business plans say on environmental matters and on the level of ambition of their common commitments on issues such as pollution and leakage. Both companies were however awarded Blueprint “Blue Stars” for projects which demonstrated sector-leading innovation and ambition – Severn Trent Water for their bespoke biodiversity enhancement project and Thames Water for their Smarter Catchments initiative.

Hannah Freeman of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and Chair of Blueprint for Water, said: ‘We’ve seen a welcome and notable increase in environmental ambition from water companies in their most recent financial plans. However there’s still a long way to go, with too many severe pollution events and untreated sewage entering our waterways and well over a thousand Olympic-sized swimming pools of water leaked from pipes every day. We want all future plans to routinely factor in enhancing the natural capital that water companies rely on, to help both business and nature to thrive.’

Dani Jordan, Water Policy Specialist at WWF, said: ‘There are big differences between the water company plans, with a handful of standout companies and conversely a few who are lagging behind the rest of the industry in terms of environmental ambition and commitment. Plans to scale-up catchment management and demand management are fairly positive across the board, however some water companies could clearly up their game on specific environmental issues, like monitoring and reducing sewage pollution incidents. As key stewards of the environment, it’s important the water industry steps up its ambitions, protecting nature to sustain its business but also for the benefit of customers and wider society.’

Ali Morse, of the Wildlife Trusts, said: ‘Water companies play a vital role as stewards of our waters and the wildlife that relies on them. Our scorecards have revealed generally good news but the gaps in environmental ambition they show must be fixed. With freshwater ecosystems among the most threatened on the planet, investment and action by water companies is key to improving both the natural resources businesses depend on and the habitats of treasured species like the water vole, curlew, brown trout and great crested newt.’

More than £5 billion will be invested by water companies in environmental improvements over the next five years. This includes over 350 catchment management projects to deal with environmental problems at source rather than ‘end-of-pipe’; commitments to reduce leakage by more than 15%; to lower water demand and to deal with pollution incidents and unsustainable abstraction.

• Ofwat report that England now has the cleanest bathing waters since records began
• Only 14% of rivers in England are classed as healthy – compared to 40% on average across Europe
• The number of serious water pollution incidents has fallen by almost two thirds since 2001, but there were still 317, almost one per day, in 2016
• 3,183m litres of water leaked daily from water pipes across England and Wales in 2017-18 – equivalent to leakage of 1,273.2 olympic-sized swimming pools per day (2.5 million litres per pool) or 464,718 pools per year


Notes to Editors:

1. Blueprint for Water is a working group within Wildlife and Countryside Link – the largest environment coalition in England. The 19 organisations supporting the water firm environment scorecards include: A Rocha UK, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, Angling Trust, British Canoeing, Buglife, Institute of Fisheries Management,Freshwater Habitats Trust, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust, Plantlife, Rewilding Britain, RSPB, Salmon & Trout Conservation, The Wildlife Trusts, Waterwise, Wildfowl & Wetland Trust, Woodland Trust, WWF-UK, and ZSL (Zoological Society of London).

2. A robust qualitative analysis and weighted scoring system has been used to assess the plans based on key criteria for environmental success as set by the eNGOs prior to the water company business plans being published. This analysis has been used to determine the environmental ambition of the firm’s plans in three areas: 1. Their main plan 2. Common commitments requested by OFWAT and 3. Bespoke commitments.

1. The water firms’ main plan documents were reviewed qualitatively against the 17 ‘asks’ that the eNGOs set out in their manifesto for PR19 launched in May 2017. A consultant used a series of agreed key words to search the plans and then a set of grading criteria to rate them as to how well they reflected the asks of the ENGOs in the text of the plan.
2. The common commitments were requested by OFWAT, with many of them relevant to the Blueprint for Water asks. The level of ambition for the relevant commitments was compared and the companies ranked.
3. The bespoke commitments the companies themselves made varied hugely making direct comparison between companies difficult. Therefore, we mapped each company’s bespoke plans against our headline outcomes. For any commitments that we felt were particularly impressive we considered them for Blueprint Blue Stars (see below).

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