Do we need to make water planning in the UK more integrated?

Paul Grabham is WRc's Head of Wastewater Infrastructure

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WRc have recently been putting a lot of thought into the current water planning environment in the UK, what works, what’s not working and what we may need to achieve a better integration of all the plans currently undertaken.

The water planning environment within the UK at present could be considered disjointed or incoherent, with planning undertaken by multiple stakeholders at different timescales. The list of existing plans includes Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans, Water Resource Management Plans, River Basin Management Plans, Surface Water Management Plans, to name but a few. While we appreciate there have been efforts to draw these closer together, we have to accept that more could be done in this space and that there are still blocks to forming a truly integrated planning environment for water.

As it stands the different plans have multiple issues which limit their potential, some of which are as follows:  

  • They use different datasets as inputs, for example rainfall, and may also use different methodologies to account for climate change.
  • They are not aligned in the context of programme or funding.
  • They use different costing models as part of appraisals.

All of which can lead to inefficient solutions, not maximising the benefits and outcomes for all, and really limiting the ability to adequately plan for the long-term.

There are several strategy documents that have been released from the UK and devolved governments over the last couple of years. Are they that different to what is already in place in what they are trying to achieve?

In 2015, the Welsh government released the ‘Wales Water Strategy’; in 2021 the Scottish government released ‘Water-resilient Places - A Policy Framework for Surface Water Management and Blue-Green Infrastructure’; and most recently, in 2023, DEFRA released ‘Our Integrated Plan for Delivering Clean and Plentiful Water’. There are dominant themes which cry out from each of these documents:

  • Water is precious.
  • The water environment is under severe pressure from population growth and climate change, with both increasing the impact of flooding and pollution.
  • There needs to be a more integrated and sustainable approach to managing our water and associated services.
  • We have to tackle this collaboratively for the benefit of future generations.

So actually, not too different in the vision that each is trying to achieve.

It would be great if we could integrate all the existing components within the water planning space and mould a new high-level planning framework that incorporates all the good work already established through existing framework development. Noting the earlier focus on collaboration from previous water strategies, for this new framework to work it really has to be developed collaboratively by stakeholders and then approved by DEFRA and the other national governments of the UK.

To use an analogy, if the framework is a diamond, comprising consistent guidance, data and tools, each user should be able to look through a different facet of the diamond and see a view of their individual plan, but it will be aligned with the planning activities, values, costings, and outcomes of other framework users.

Like a diamond, how priceless would that be?

So, how do we move this forward? WRc plan to facilitate a workshop to discuss this with all the stakeholders actively engaged in managing and planning water in both urban and rural environments. We need to at least understand why the current planning frameworks are not working, what each organisation or stakeholder would want from an integrated framework and agree the common objectives. That would be a good place to start.

If you would like to learn more about our thoughts on integrated water planning or be part of the discussion, then please get in touch!

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Paul Grabham

Head of Wastewater Infrastructure

Paul has over 20 years’ experience in the water industry, relating to the technical delivery of sewerage studies, and recent experience of strategic planning, asset management and the inputs to the regulatory price review process. As Head of Wastewater Infrastructure at WRc, Paul's role involves the development of the strategy for business growth for our UK and international client base. He is a chartered member of CIWEM and an active member of the Urban Drainage community.

2023-12-04 17:19:02