UK Politics

MPs call for urgent action to reduce flooding

Flooding in Tewkesbury (file pic)
Image caption Ms McIntosh said flooding had "wrought devastation and heartache" in communities across the country

The government needs to take urgent action to reduce the impact of flooding, MPs have said.

Ministers had been "too slow" in pushing through changes to improve protection, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said.

But it welcomed government plans for more competition in the water sector, in its report on the draft Water Bill.

The government said the proposed legislation would build resilience into the UK's water infrastructure.

However, Labour said the plans were "ideologically driven" and would bring higher bills and environmental damage.

Consumer protection

The draft Water Bill, published last summer, would "strengthen the water sector's ability to respond to the challenges of a growing population and less certain water supplies", according to the government.

It would also allow business and other non-household customers to switch their water and sewerage suppliers.

But Conservative MP Anne McIntosh, the committee's chairwoman, said: "The government has been too slow to implement changes that would protect homes and businesses from the shattering effects of flooding.

"New laws will increase competition in the retail water market and while we welcome those changes, government must get on with implementing changes that would reduce flooding - many of which were recommended nearly five years ago."

Ms McIntosh said successive governments had lacked "the mettle" to tackle the problem.

While the committee applauded plans to reform the water sector, it was concerned the bill left too much of the important detail to be decided by the industry's regulator, Ofwat - or to be introduced through secondary legislation, which receives less parliamentary scrutiny.

The committee recommended that encouraging sustainable development should be a primary duty of the regulator, and that the government should speed up reform of the way water was abstracted from rivers.

It also suggested encouraging greater use of meters to help lower customers' bills, and called for better protection for consumers.

Ms McIntosh said: "The lack of detail in the legislation leads to uncertainty for investors, which could result in higher financing costs for water companies and higher water bills for customers.

"We want the government to put enough meat into this legislation that investors and water companies can have the confidence to invest.

"We want to see provisions in the legislation that protect consumers and we do not accept the government's arguments that those protections would undermine investors' confidence in the water industry."

But water minister Richard Benyon said: "As unpredictable rainfall and population growth puts an increased pressure on our water supplies we need a water industry that is fit for the 21st century.

"This bill will ensure our water supplies remain affordable, resilient and sustainable for the future."

For Labour, shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said it was "astonishing" the government had "not put in place the advanced computing system to predict severe weather".

She added: "Instead they are pursuing an ideologically driven shake-up of the water industry that could mean higher bills, and serious environmental damage."

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