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Councils respond to Water Resources East’s new plan for water management over 50 years

Local Councils have welcomed a long-term plan that aims to help ensure there is enough water in the region – but say it must aim for even higher water efficiency standards.

Evidence commissioned by Greater Cambridge Shared Planning to support the First Proposals for the new Greater Cambridge Local Plan, which were published in November 2021, found that water resources are already an issue in the region. The evidence also shows water supplies could be a potential 'show stopper' for meeting future development needs in Greater Cambridge.

Greater Cambridge Shared Planning is a partnership between Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District Councils. The Councils have today (Tuesday 22 February 2022) published their response to Water Resources East’s consultation on the first stage of its Regional Plan for Eastern England’s water resources. The plan covers the next 50 years and beyond and includes proposals for a Fens reservoir.

Key points raised in Greater Cambridge Shared Planning’s response to the Water Resources East Regional Plan

  • The Councils support the principle of a Fens Reservoir to provide water, but also highlight the importance of bringing forward other short- and medium-term measures. This is because the reservoir would not be operational until at least 2035.

  • The Councils agree that such interim measures include more strategic measures such as water transfers, as well as local catchment-based options with an increasing focus on the use of nature-based solutions to provide an adequate and sustainable water supply.

  • In terms of reducing the amount of water used, the Councils support measures outlined in the Plan such as leakage reduction, smart metering and labelling of large household appliances, and say it will be crucial that the Plan provides confidence around the certainty and deliverability of some of the demand management measures proposed. 

  • The Councils suggest that the Plan could go much further to support very ambitious levels of water efficiency (80 litres/person/day in new housing) through supporting Local Authorities to set levels beyond current Building Regulations.

  • Further exploration into improving water efficiency through retrofitting existing buildings would be welcomed by the Councils.

  • The Councils are pleased to see Chalk Stream Protection listed as a specific intervention in the Plan and have themselves secured funding to carry out projects that make local chalk streams and the species they support more resilient. The Councils would urge a coordinated approach to actions in order to secure the greatest benefits.

  • The Councils welcome references to next generation desalination plants needing to be powered by 100% renewable energy and that the plan responds to meeting net-zero carbon by 2050; and note that it will be important that energy use and emissions associated with these measures have been factored in, prioritising those with lower carbon emissions wherever possible.

Cambridge City Council’s Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Transport, Cllr Katie Thornburrow, said: “The water planning process is an essential part of us being able to plan for new development in Greater Cambridge. We have been really clear as we are developing our new joint Greater Cambridge Local Plan First Proposals that water supply could be a potential ‘show stopper’. As we move to achieve our net-zero carbon targets and deliver sustainable development of homes and workplaces, improving water efficiency, reducing leakage, and managing demand are key, and we look forward to seeing these aspirations delivered. The preservation and improvement of chalk streams is a vital aspect of this and will also help to meet our aims to improve biodiversity. We will only be able to plan for the new homes that we will need, if we have evidence from the water industry that demonstrates that there will be an adequate water supply without causing unacceptable harm to the environment.”

South Cambridgeshire’s Lead Cabinet Member for Planning Policy and Delivery, Cllr Dr. Tumi Hawkins said: “Our emerging joint Local Plan is already really clear about the scale of the challenge we face in terms of water supply in the area. As local planning authorities we are required to identify and plan for the needs of our areas – including how to support existing residents and businesses, and planning ahead to enable the economy to grow and houses to be built. However, we also need to prioritise protecting and enhancing the environment. We’re grateful to Water Resources East for working openly with us as we all look ahead to the future needs of the region, and we look forward to continuing working in this way as WRE’s Regional Plan and our Greater Cambridge Local Plan emerge. We need to all play our part in ensuring future growth won't damage the local water supply and rivers, streams and natural habit, and will not only protect but enhance the environment.”

The Regional Plan is still at an early stage and WRE’s consultation on the draft Plan is still live, with the next draft of the plan due in Autumn 2022, and the final plan in 2023.

The response from the Councils has been confirmed by Cambridge City Council but is subject to South Cambridgeshire District Council’s usual call-in process.