Water Company business plans published

Water Company business plans are out – have your say for Chiltern chalk streams, says Catherine Moncrieff, Chiltern Society Chalk Stream Lead

On October 2nd Water Companies Submitted their Business Plans to Ofwat, which set out the investments and commitments they will make between 2025 and 2030 for managing water. Ofwat will now scrutinize these plans, ensuring they offer value for money for customers.

The plans amount to £96 billion of investment across England on water supply infrastructure, measures to reduce leakage and water wastage, and upgrades to sewage treatment infrastructure. This investment is sorely needed to clean up our rivers and ensure plentiful water resources – for society and the environment.

There is still a chance to have your say on these plans through online ‘Your Water, Your Say’ sessions. These sessions will be an opportunity to hear from the senior leadership team of the companies, challenge and ask questions, and voice your support for the investments that will help restore the Chiltern streams.

For the Chilterns area, it’s the business plans of Affinity Water and Thames Water that are important. Thames Water manages the sewage system across the Chilterns, whilst both companies supply water –Thames Water predominantly in the south Chilterns.

You can find their Business Plans here, and the dates and links to sign up to the ‘Your water, your say’ sessions are here:

Affinity Water – 18 October, 6pm -8pm

Thames Water – 30 November, 5pm-7pm.

The water company business plans are underpinned by (1) water resources management plans, focused on supply sufficient clean water and (2) drainage and wastewater management plans, focused on removing and treating dirty water. These plans were publicly consulted on during 2022 and 2023. The Chiltern Society fed into these consultations, and we’re pleased to see that the revised plans respond to our feedback, at least in part.

In particular, we’re encouraged that Affinity Water, in response to positive customer feedback, remain focused on ambitious ‘sustainable abstraction’ goals. This includes plans to reduce abstraction by 35 million litres per day mostly from Chiltern chalk aquifers. That’s about 14 Olympic swimming pools not being pumped out each day, enabling these aquifers to feed the flow of rare chalk streams such as the Misbourne and the Ver. It will require investment in alternative water supplies, notably the Grand Union canal scheme, which will transfer water from the Midlands into the Chiltern area. Affinity Water have procured all the technical and planning work required to take the scheme through to development between 2030 and 2035.

To both Thames Water and Affinity Water, we expressed our desire to see greater ambition on reducing leakage and encouraging wise water use. Thames Water loses around a quarter of the water it puts into supply through leakage, so it’s particularly encouraging to see an increase in ambition since their draft plan, which only aimed for a 16% reduction by 2030; they’re now on track for achieving a 20% reduction by 2027. We also welcome Thames Water’s greater ambition on water consumption: Thames Water are aiming to reduce water consumption to 110 litres per person per day, a significant improvement on the 123 litres in their draft plan.

Affinity Water also say they have increased their ambition in terms of managing water demand since their draft plan. However, they have maintained a phased roll-out of smart water meters, so we have to wait until 2040 for 90% of homes to have smart meters. The Chiltern Society would ask if this pace is fast enough given the proven ability of smart meters to support behaviour change around water use.

Looking at dirty water management, Thames Water plans to reduce sewer overflows into the environment to no more than an average of 10 per overflow in a typical year at the most sensitive locations by 2030, and all sensitive locations by 2035. This means that over half of sewer overflows will be improved by 2035. This is in fact faster than the Government’s Storm Overflow Reduction Plan [which sets a target of 52% of sewage overflows being improved by 2040] – but is this fast enough for our chalk streams? The plans also include upgrading 11 sewage treatment works across Hertfordshire, Central Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Slough and Luton.

The Chiltern Society, along with the Chilterns Conservation Board, the River Chess Association and many others, has been involved in Thames Water’s Chess ‘Smarter Water Catchment initiative’ since 2021. This is one of three pilots to trial a collaborative, catchment-wide approach to improving the health of rivers. We’re very supportive of Thames Water’s plans to extend this approach to other river catchments, and hope that these plans will not be deferred or reduced in Ofwat’s ‘determination’ on the plans.

Whilst we are greatly encouraged by the recent progress being made by both Water Companies, we will continue to hold them and the Government to account. Please join us and have your say on the Business Plans to help keep our Chiltern chalk streams clean and flowing for generations to come.