Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs
This written statement provides an update on principle actions set out in the Water Strategy for Wales since it was published in May 2015. The Strategy sets out how we believe our water services and resources should be managed. It articulates our strategic direction and long-term vision for water policy under six key themes. These, alongside the progress made, are set out in the attached annex.
The Welsh Government’s vision for water is to ensure Wales continues to have a thriving water environment which is sustainably managed to support healthy communities, flourishing businesses and biodiversity. We want the people of Wales to receive first class, value for money water services, with water used efficiently, safely and respectfully by all.
The water quality in Wales has improved over recent years as evidence in the River Basin Management Plans published in December 2015. One area I am particularly proud of in Wales is the quality of our bathing waters. In recent years the number of designated bathing waters in Wales has risen to 103, with last year’s results giving Wales the best bathing water quality in mainland Britain.
In order to build on these improvements I will be allocating extra funding to Natural Resources Wales to deliver a metal mine remediation programme for Wales. Another issue I will be progressing is tackling diffuse pollution from agriculture and I look forward to working with the water sector to set up this programme of work.
A significant amount of work is ongoing to improve access to fair and affordable water services, a key priority contributing to our Tackling Poverty Action Plan and Well-being Goals set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. We have published Charging Guidance to the Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat. The Charging Guidance, alongside our Social Tariff Guidance already published to Welsh Water Companies and Ofwat, ensures water bills will be kept at an affordable level and customers have a choice of charging options. This important work supports those most at risk of poverty and protects vulnerable groups.
A range of support schemes providing appropriately targeted tariffs and payment plans to help customers who may struggle to afford to pay their bills are provided by Welsh Water Companies. We are closely monitoring the uptake of schemes and welcome recent steps taken by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water to raise the household income eligibility threshold encouraging wider access to this support. We know access to free and impartial advice is helping people to reduce energy bills and make their homes more energy efficient. The support service provided by NEST, the Welsh Government’s key scheme for tackling fuel poverty, is being extended to customers of Welsh Water Companies. Information about the range of support available is being distributed to Assembly Members and citizens advice services by the Consumer Council for Water.
We are supporting the development of area based natural resources management. This goes hand-in-hand with the sustainable management of our natural resources, in a more joined up way, embedding our approach set out in the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and in the sustainable development principle of our Well-being Goals. It is vital local communities are involved in planning and decisions that concern their area-based natural resources, with Natural Resources Wales we are supporting and encouraging more proactive community focussed River Basin Management. We are protecting water resources and vital ecosystems through our programme to tackle diffuse pollution. The implementation of the Prevention of Pollution (Oil Storage) (Wales) Regulations 2015 is a significant step to reduce pollution caused by oil leakage. Our ongoing work to reform the water abstraction licensing system aims to ensure water supply needs of businesses and industry are fairly balanced with the sustainable management of water resources.
We are improving the planning and management of our water services, in which the support and involvement of our delivery partners is integral and vital in its delivery. Our Guiding Principles published earlier this year will inform the development of future Water Resources Management Plans developed by Welsh Water Companies. These alongside our Strategic Priorities Statement to Ofwat, to be published later this year, communicate our policy expectations to key delivery partners. Ensuring Welsh Government priorities set out in our Water Strategy for Wales and the legislative framework of Wales form the basis of all planning and management of our water resources.
I am committed to the delivery of the actions set out in the Water Strategy for Wales. I am confident that I can rely on the continued support and expertise of the water sector in this vital area of work that will bring benefits to the people of Wales.
The Water Strategy for Wales
Supporting the sustainable management of our natural resources
Update to the Action Plan, 2015 to 2016
1. Water for nature, people and business
Our priorities are to ensure the sustainable and area based management of our water resources now and in the future, we have:
- Supported River Basin Management Liaison Panels with Natural Resources Wales, as a key forum for local community involvement in area-based natural resource planning and decisions.
- Progressed the reform of the abstraction license system engaging widely with the water sector to ensure a balance between supply needs and the sustainable management of water resources. We are working jointly with the UK Government and expect a draft UK (Wales and England) Bill to be published in the autumn.
- Implemented the Prevention of Pollution (Oil Storage) (Wales) Regulations 2015, to protect water quality, biodiversity and vital ecosystems by reducing oil pollution.
2. Planning and managing our water services
Our priorities are to manage resources sustainably balancing short-term needs and the development of water resources and supply systems to meet long-term needs, we have:
- Published Water Resources Management Plan Direction 2016 and the Welsh Government Guiding Principles for Developing Water Resources Management Plans (WRMP) for 2020 and beyond.
3. Delivering excellent services to customers
Our priorities are to ensure access to fair and affordable water and sewerage systems. In line with the commitment in the Child Poverty Strategy for Wales to support families living in poverty to increase household income through debt and financial advice and action to address the poverty premium, we have:
- Promoted water affordability and social tariffs to the Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat and Water Companies. Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and Dee Valley Water have provided help to customers who would otherwise struggle to pay their water bills. Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water has raised the household income eligibility threshold from £12,500 to £15,000 to enable more people to benefit from its support scheme.
- Established links between NEST, the Welsh Government’s key scheme for tacking fuel poverty, to provide free impartial advice and support to customers of water companies. Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water are already benefitting from additional referrals from NEST, and Dee Valley Water will start receiving referrals from 01 September. Information about the range of support available is being distributed to Assembly Members and advisory support services by the Consumer Council for Water.
- Supported work to improve Gypsies and Travellers site design and management guidance. Our work ensures new sites are designed to enable Gypsies and Travellers to have direct access to water companies and their support schemes. Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water is setting up direct billing for residents at the recent new site in Conwy.
- Developed high level Charging Guidance to Ofwat, for Ofwat to take into consideration when producing rules around what price water and sewerage companies can charge customers in their bills. Commissioned the development of more detailed charging guidance for developer charges, Bulk supply charges and Access pricing to inform Ofwat of relevant Welsh legislative and policy frameworks.
4. Protecting and improving drinking water quality
Our priorities are to maintain current high standards of public drinking water quality and make improvements to ensure we have a safe and reliable drinking water supply and infrastructure, we have:
- Revised our drinking water legislation to include provisions in relation to Radon, in accordance with Euratom requirements.
- Undertaken an initial evaluation of the Private Water Supplies (Wales) Regulations 2010, which will inform a review of the legislation, to ensure standards for water quality in Private Water Supplies continue to effectively protect public health.
- With the Water Health Partnership, progressed work investigating options to address the risk of lead leaching into water supplies. This will inform work to reduce long term risks from lead pipes and fittings used in plumbing.
5. 21st century drainage and sewerage systems
Our priorities are to establish a structured approach and the framework needed to support the long term collaborative management of our sewerage and drainage network so that infrastructure is fit for purpose for the 21st century and beyond, we have:
- Published national advisory standards for sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) which will enable designers, property developers, Local Authorities and other stakeholders to demonstrate that they have taken account of Welsh Government planning advice on development and flood risk.
- Commenced work to map and review current drainage ownership and related legislation which will inform an evaluation of drainage practices and legislation and a strategy for developing catchment scale sustainable drainage systems.
- Implemented revised guidance which simplifies processes and dispute resolution arrangements for sewerage schemes for rural communities under Section 101A of the Water industry Act 1991.
6. Supporting delivery
Our priorities are focussed around delivery mechanisms which support the development of a more integrated and sustainable approach for the management of our water systems and associated services, we have
- Undertaken work with the UK Government and the water sector to move Wales towards a new devolution settlement. Our objective is to achieve a long-lasting settlement for Wales based on the principle of giving full effect to Silk recommendations for the devolution of all matters relating to water and sewerage and the removal of the unilateral power of the UK Government to intervene in respect of water resources in Wales.
- Commenced work to develop a statutory Strategic Policy Statement which will ensure Ofwat’s work is informed by Welsh Government legislative framework and policy priorities.
- Engaged key stakeholders to develop the role of the Water Forum for Wales which brings together partners and supports the delivery of the Water Strategy and the cohesive and sustainable management of our water resources and ecosystems.