Michael Gove has set the water industry a new target to halve leakage by 2050, while signalling backing for new reservoirs and inter-regional transfers.

In a wide-ranging speech yesterday, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs set out a twin track approach to capturing and storing more rainwater while reducing demand through more effective conservation.

In the speech, which was issued in response to the Met Office’s latest climate change projections, he said: “The experience of this summer, and the evidence of the projections, underscore the need to make our water supplies more resilient to a warmer climate in the future.”

Gove said a new draft National Policy Statement, due to be laid before Parliament this week, will pave the way for the construction of new infrastructure to facilitate water transfers and the first reservoirs to be built in England since the privatisation of the water industry.

But while blaming companies and regulatory barriers for these failures to build new reservoirs, he said that relying solely on new water infrastructure would prove expensive for bill payers and create pressures on the natural environment.

Gove said he is setting water companies a ‘stretching’ new target to halve leakage, which still stands at 3 billion litres a day despite falling since privatisation, by 2050.

The government’s current target is to cut leaks by 15 per cent by 2025.

The announcement also adopts recommendations in the National Infrastructure Commission’s report, ‘Preparing for a Drier Future’, on how to make England’s water infrastructure resilient to droughts.

A spokesperson for the commission said: “With climate change increasing drought risk England can’t afford to lose 3 billion litres of water every day, so we’re pleased to see Michael Gove endorsing our recommendations to halve leakages by 2050.

“We’re also pleased the National Policy Statement will make it easier to deliver new reservoirs and water transfers to increase the capacity of the system and support areas in greatest need.

“These measures are an important step towards a more resilient water supply.”

Gove’s new target is in line with Water UK’s pledge in October for the industry to cut leaks in half by the middle of this century.

According to the climate change projections, average UK summer temperatures will be 5.4C hotter in 2070 than they are today.