Lord Adonis, former chair of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), has accused the government of having “ducked” critical water infrastructure issues.

Speaking in a House of Lords debate yesterday (11 April) on the draft national policy statement (NPS) on water, published towards the end of last year, he described the document as a “list of considerations”.

He said: “My concern is that the draft national policy statement we are debating is essentially a list of considerations that need to be addressed in the development of a national strategy for dealing with water infrastructure. It does not set out a strategy.”

Lord Adonis said the “issues at stake” including the prospect of new infrastructure such as reservoirs, water metering policy and the consideration of a national water grid are all “very controversial”.

While he said he was glad the NPS pays tribute to the work of the NIC, which has “wrestled long and hard” with such issues, he stressed that the policy statement does not appear to “take the debate forward”.

“The questions of whether we will or will not be building new reservoirs, will or will not have a national water grid or will or will not have mandatory water metering—three absolutely critical issues in terms of a water infrastructure plan—the government have ducked them all so far and have simply kicked them forward,” the Labour peer said.

Lord Adonis suggested the draft NPS “kicks the can down the road”.

The debate was proposed by Lord Gardiner of Kimble, parliamentary under-secretary in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), who also responded on behalf of the government.

Opening the debate, he said: “Securing a sufficient supply of water in the future will be more challenging as pressure from a growing population and climate change impact on us. We will also have to reduce current levels of abstraction from some sources to protect the environment.”

He outlined that “more infrastructure” will need to be built but efforts will also have to be taken to reduce demand and increase supply through a “twin-track” approach.

And he said companies will need to work harder to tackle leakage as progress has “stalled” in recent years with around one-fifth of supply being lost – the equivalent of three billion litres per day.

Lord Gardiner highlighted that the environment secretary Michael Gove has made it clear that a “step change” to reduce leaks is needed. The industry has committed to halve leakage by 2050.

“For the next round ​of business plans, the industry has committed to an average 16 per cent reduction by 2025; a good first step towards the 2050 target. This long-term goal is stretching, but we must be ambitious, given the challenge that we face,” he said.

The government plans to launch a call for evidence in the “coming weeks” on setting an “ambitious target” for per capita consumption.

“This will establish a target against which we can measure the progress of the government and the water industry. Alongside the call for evidence, we will consult on the policy options required to reach our consumption target, such as labels providing information on the efficiency of water-using products, improving building standards and the future role of metering.”

He added: “Even with considerable ambition, fixing leaks and reducing the amount each of us consumes, there is more we must do. The gap remaining by 2050 after action to reduce demand will be around 1 billion litres per day.

“We also therefore need to focus on providing additional supplies. This means new or upgraded infrastructure that might transfer water across a company’s area or between companies. It might mean a new reservoir, or it could come from other solutions such as desalination or the treatment and reuse of sewage effluent. Each of these options has pros and cons. There are choices to be made as to the best balance of different infrastructure types.”

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