Greenwashing or future-proofing? What Anglian Water's £9bn plan means for bills

  • Stuart Leithes takes a closer look at the report and Anglian Water's £9bn spending plans

An under-fire water company has set out how it plans to spend £9bn of customer money to combat what it describes as "critical challenges" in the future - and admitted bills will go up.

Anglian Water has debts of around £6bn and has been criticised by the government for its record in reporting sewage leaks.

Now it has commissioned an independent report on the challenges faced by the East of England as the region looks to cope with the impact of climate change and a rapidly growing population.

Anglian Water has revealed plans to spend £9bn between 2025 and 2030 to counter problems such as water shortages, higher temperatures and lower rainfall.

The independent report, entitled Thriving East, paints a picture of a much hotter, drier East Anglia with some of the highest temperatures in the country by 2043, and rainfall at a record low.

There are warnings that the Anglia region is likely to suffer more droughts in the future.

It suggests the East of England will also have to contend with a rising population, with more than 720,000 new residents moving to the region, putting more stress on water supplies.

The water company said bills would have to rise to help support its investment plans.

The plan will see Anglian Water create 7,000 jobs across the East of England, added the company, as it looks to protect the future environmental and social resilience of the region.

Anglian Water supplies drinking water to 4.3 million customers across the East of England and collects and treats used water from seven million people.

ITV Anglia looks at five of the key points to come out of the report.

  • Drought

The report suggests the effects of climate change will hit the East of England harder than other parts of the UK.

The Met Office predicts that by 2040, rainfall in the region will average 2.14mm per day, significantly below the national average of 2.85mm, while in Cambridgeshire it could be even less.

The company said high levels of agriculture in the area mean there is greater demand for water to keep crops growing.

Anglian Water said it will boost its network of pipes linking up parts of the region to create hundreds of miles of large-scale interconnecting pipes to allow water to be moved from wetter areas in the north to drier areas in the south.

  • New reservoir

In Cambridgeshire, work will continue towards planning a new reservoir which would supply water to around 250,000 homes.

An existing Anglian Water reservoir at Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire Credit: ITV News Anglia

The reservoir north of Chatteris near the villages of Doddington and Wimblington is one of two being planned by the company to combat what is expected to be a drier future.

  • Sewage and pollution

Anglian Water said it would be investing in cleaning up rivers and seas. The company has been named one of the worst performing water companies in the country with a two out of five star rating from the Environment Agency for the reporting of pollution incidents.

Investments will include work to improve water quality in shellfish harvesting areas in the River Blackwater in Essex by adding UV disinfection.

Some £93m will be spent on storm tanks in Southend and Great Yarmouth to stop sewage flooding into the sea during heavy rain.

Swimmers at Thorpe Bay near Southend Credit: PA Images

There will also be improvements at Melton and Woodbridge to boost bathing water quality in the River Deben.

Millions will also be spent on be improvements to water recycling centres in Dunstable in Bedfordshire, Great Billing in Northamptonshire and at Whitlingham outside Norwich.

A few areas where customers are on septic tanks will be connected to the sewage system.

Anglian Water said it needed to go "faster and further" than it ever had before to protect the environment.

  • Bills

Anglian Water said the investment would mean bills would rise.

Spokesperson Regan Harris said: "The investment we are proposing and the increases that are a product of that are the lowest in the water industry.

"So what we are saying is by the end of the decade we will see a 22p a day rise in water bills. That will take water bills to £1.57 a day."

Anglian Water has already warned customers bills could rise by £91 a year - including £12 to help pay for a national £10bn investment in sewerage infrastructure.

  • Reaction

The report has not gone down well with everyone.

Water campaigner Feargal Sharkey said Anglian Water's plan was nothing more than a cynical "green-washing" exercise, intended to cover up the company's problems.

He said the company had failed to hit pollution targets and he did not think the plan would address those problems.

Mr Sharkey said: "Here's a company that in the last 12 months has failed to hit its leakage targets, its water quality targets, its demand reduction targets, its pollution targets, its sewage flooding targets, its customer satisfaction targets; is currently over-abstracting local chalk streams to the tune of 189 million litres a day and it's asking customers to trust them.

"How ridiculous is that?"

But an Anglian Water spokesperson responded to his comments with the following: “Last year we were 100% compliant with our abstraction licences and will continue to reduce abstraction to leave an extra 85 million litres of water in the environment by 2025, despite operating in the driest region with the fastest growing population. This is the biggest single thing we can do to protect the environment.

“Despite missing our leakage target last year, we continue to lead the industry in reducing leakage levels for the thirteenth year running, with around half as many leaks as any other water company.

"And we also saw our lowest ever level of per capita consumption with our customers using 20-litres per day less than they did four years ago.”

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