HC Deb 11 January 2000 vol 342 cc120-1W
Mr. Harvey

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what criteria were applied in determining how many and which environment schemes would be deleted from proposals put to him by the Environment Agency and South West Water; under what statutory authority that decision was made; whether the criteria relating to pollution of the water environment are the same in every region; and if he will make a statement. [104161]

Mr. Mullin

Proposals for investment by water companies in schemes to protect and improve the environment in England were put to the Secretary of State by the Environment Agency as part of the Periodic Review of water company price limits. This is a non-statutory process, led by Ofwat, which sets the price framework by reference, among other factors, to foreseen investment needs over the forthcoming pricing period, in this case 2000–05.

The Director General of Ofwat requested guidance from Ministers about the level of investment which companies should be required to make to achieve environmental objectives within this period. We were advised in that task by the Environment Agency, which put forward a list of specific proposals for consideration. A large proportion of these arose from the need to meet statutory water quality standards, many of them arising from European legislation. All these schemes were included in the programme as a matter of course. On other parts of the programme, principally schemes to improve river water quality and those to improve intermittent sewage discharges, it was possible for the Government to exercise a degree of discretion over the timing or the nature of the objectives.

In "Raising the Quality", which was published in September 1998, we indicated a general aim to eliminate at least half the existing shortfall in compliance with river quality objectives by 2005 and to accelerate the rate of improvement for intermittent discharges, so that at least two thirds of remaining unsatisfactory discharges would be improved by 2005. Within these national objectives, however, the Government made clear it would take a view on the pace of investment for particular companies taking account of the need to avoid unacceptable impacts on water prices in different parts of the country, and to reflect local environmental priorities.

In the south west, where customers were already experiencing water bills considerably higher than for any other water company, and which already had the highest rate of compliance with river quality objectives in England, we decided to undertake a lower proportion of investment to meet river quality objectives and improve intermittent discharges than elsewhere. These decisions were based on assessments of the costs and benefits of the investment schemes concerned. However, the south west will still benefit from a substantial environmental programme, which includes further improvements to protect bathing waters and shellfish waters, key priorities for the region.

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