HC Deb 10 March 2004 vol 418 cc1504-5
2. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD)

What recent assessment he has made for planning purposes of the adequacy of water supplies in Sussex and Kent. [159903]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott)

We are working with the water industry and the Environment Agency both to ensure that growth areas have the necessary water infrastructure and to improve the management and conservation of existing water resources. In addition, the Environment Agency is undertaking work for the South East England regional assembly on water resources across the south-east region that will inform the review of regional planning guidance currently being considered by the regional assembly.

Norman Baker

When the Deputy Prime Minister announced £22 million of pump-priming for 2,000 new houses in the south-east yesterday, was he aware that pressure on water resources there is so enormous that South East Water, my local water company, is applying for a desalination plant in my constituency? Is he also aware that his regional policies have led to thousands of houses being earmarked for demolition in the north while more housing is being built on scarce greenfield sites in the south-east?

The Deputy Prime Minister

The whole House is aware of the difficulties involving water shortages in the south-east. It is often said that extra housing will increase those difficulties. We have spent a considerable amount of time on the problem. In 1997, I set up the water conference, which reduced leakages by 20 per cent., saving as much water as that of 6 million households. That was a considerable saving, but we had to go further. Initially, we called on the Environment Agency and the regional council to consider shortages and deficits over a 25-year period to ensure that the regional spatial plans take account of the availability of water in view of the new developments in housing. We expect that report shortly.