Implications of the Environment Bill on the Water Industry

By Hugo Jenkins and Matthew Humphreys

The Environment Bill has returned to Parliament, precipitating the most far-reaching changes to environmental governance in more than 30 years. The landmark legislation delivers on the UK’s post-Brexit green growth strategy, supporting the government’s commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and introducing legally binding nature, water, air, and waste targets from 2022.

Within the water industry, new policies are expected to champion wholesale infrastructure upgrades to prevent pollution incidents and achieve environmental compliance. But with the Asset Management Plan (AMP) 7 driving increased spend, water companies could be treading a tense tightrope between asset improvement and environmental performance. 

Adler and Allan’s Hugo Jenkins, Head of Water and Ecology, and Matthew Humphreys, National Account Manager, discuss how a proactive approach to risk and remediation can ease the balance.  

A Bill to bring about change

The Environment Bill will establish a domestic framework to protect and restore the UK’s natural resources. It will also create a new, independent green watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – to advise on and enforce environmental law, report on performance against targets, and offer governance currently provided by the EU.

The Bill will enshrine in law policies and plans that drive measurable progress across air and water quality, biodiversity, resource efficiency, and waste management. While specific water sector targets are to be confirmed, Defra’s Water Factsheet calls for cross-industry collaboration, transparent regulation of water companies, and more resilient water and wastewater services.  

A costly Catch-22

Without doubt, the Bill’s aspirations of positive action and accountability are noble – and necessary to preserve the environment for future generations. But water companies will need support to implement an industry sea change that is challenging to budget for.

Faced with an ageing infrastructure and unprecedented network demand, the sector is already straining under the pressures of service improvement and a save-at-all-costs commercial climate.

Meeting the directives of the Bill, while still delivering for customers and shareholders, will require a fundamental shift in the industry’s approach to environmental risks. Fortunately, many providers have already aligned with specialist consultants to respond to leakages, sewer flooding, and ecological emergencies.

Avoiding fines, downtime, and reputational damage under the Bill’s stringent targets, however, calls for a more proactive plan of action – and a process of tactical prioritisation.

Specialist support for risk review and mitigation

This begins with an onsite, estate-wide audit by an environmental consultant to assess baseline risk and highlight assets that pose the most immediate environmental dangers – and the highest probability of penalties under new laws.

A trusted partner will then design and implement a cost-conscious mitigation plan that reduces exposure under new legislation and puts providers on the path to full environmental compliance.

Countdown to compliance

Organisations who act now to intelligently improve assets could avoid almost certain sanctions when the Bill comes into force later next year. Working with an expert ensures a systematic approach to spend and risk reduction, and that specialist support services are instantly available when needed.

The key lesson for the water industry? Don’t waste time. With a system of Significant Improvement Tests set to track achievements against short- and long-term objectives, the grace period to curb environmental threats is critically short.

Pinpoint your most pressing risks, action a practical mitigation programme, and begin now to build compliance under the Environment Bill’s bold and purposeful plans.