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Detailed Practice Notes written by our Professional Support Lawyers, guiding you through the key issues in each topic.
Water - overview
The Government launched its new water strategy for England, Future Water on 7 February 2008. The strategy sets out a framework for water management in England. This includes:
sustainable delivery of secure water supplies
an improved and protected water environment
fair, affordable and 'cost-reflective' water charges
reduced water sector greenhouse gas emissions
more sustainable and effective management of surface water
Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government have policy responsibility for water resources in England and Wales.
Water companies have the power under the Water Industry Act 1991 to impose hosepipe bans. The Water Resources Act 1991 allows a range of stronger measures under drought permits and drought orders controlling the abstraction, discharge, supply and treatment of water. An emergency drought order may go even further by authorising water companies to supply water from standpipes or water tanks and to increase the scope of restrictions on the use of water as they see fit.
The Water Act 2003 amended the Water Industry Act 1991 so that water companies must:
prepare and publicise drought plans
agree and publicise water resources management plans
put in place and implement measures to further water conservation
For property owners and occupiers, key implications include:
the Secretary of State or the Welsh Assembly having powers to develop schemes requiring the adoption of private sewers by sewerage undertakers
provisions requiring fire authorities or owners of commercial or industrial premises to pay for replacement fire hydrants removed during water mains renewal or refurbishment work
provisions allowing developers to enter into an agreement with water undertakers to lay water mains and communication pipes in accordance with standards set by the undertaker
extended provisions enabling undertakers to adopt new lateral drains upon construction, and
powers for the Secretary of State or the Welsh Assembly the power to make orders to apply or disapply the trade effluent consent regime in certain cases
Over 2 million properties in England and Wales are at risk from flooding. Changes in our climate, such as more severe storms and wetter winters, will increase that risk. The Environment Agency first published flood-risk maps in 2004, and insurers have been understandably interested in national-scale mapping. Norwich Union's UK flood maps show the level of risk, the likely frequency and the potential flood depth. Premiums can therefore be calculated for individual addresses and the greater accuracy helps in mitigating flood risk. However, it also threatens the continuing availability of insurance as a management tool. The potential repercussions include the following:
a demand by insurers for risk mitigation as a condition of cover. This will work only if it evokes an appropriate response from other stakeholders, particularly the government, property occupiers and developers. If not, increased risk will translate into higher premiums or reduced cover - or both - making insurance less available and affordable, thereby creating a potential insurance underclass
the unravelling of 'mutuality', as, given a competitive insurance market, policyholders occupying property outside flood-risk areas withdraw from policies that include this element of cover. The reduced loss-bearing capacity of premiums could leave insurers unable to fund flood-damage claims
insurance companies could be forced to withdraw cover in certain locations because the risks become too great
The continuance of flood-risk cover is dependent upon the reinsurance market, which operates globally and is therefore beyond the control of national governments. Reinsurance offers insurers protection against catastrophic risks, and the effects of climate change mean that reinsurers are likely to become increasingly selective about their risk portfolios.
Planning Policy Statement 25 (PPS25) sets out Government policy on development and flood risk. It aims to ensure that flood risk is taken into account at all stages in the planning process, to avoid inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding, and to direct development away from areas of highest risk.
Where new development is, exceptionally, necessary in such areas, policy aims to make it safe, without increasing flood risk elsewhere, and, where possible, reducing flood risk overall. Developers must satisfy local planning authorities and the Environment Agency that they can implement flood-control measures without the need for additional publicly funded defences. The most usual approach to flood mitigation on new sites is to raise the overall ground level. Residential developers appear more likely than commercial developers to adopt such measures. Other methods of mitigation are being investigated these include ways of increasing flood-plain capacity and new flood-defence structures.
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