The water regulation authority Ofwat have predicted at the start of this year that bills are set to increase by 3.5% for the average household, to approximately £388 per year. Chief Executive Regina Finn said that despite the fact that they understood the financial pressures that all households are currently facing, this increase was less than the water companies themselves were hoping to charge.
The reasons for these charges are not just because of last year’s dry spell (although any of us caught in yet another rainstorm may question how the UK can indeed be short of rainfall), nor as publicly claimed, inflation, but also due to investment in the UK’s infrastructure;
‘The increased bills will contribute to investment programme worth about £25bn between 2010 and 2015, the regulator added’
Water companies have little choice but to expand where possible existing capacity and supply to accommodate new housing developments throughout the country. Subsequently, the financial investment needs to be recouped, and as usual with corporate giants, the customer foots the bill. This is a stealth tax on existing residents to pay for the downsides of new housing, often that they don’t want.
This is all bad news for the consumer –in the one area of utilities where we have no real choice over our provider, save moving house. The debt charity ‘Stepchange’ highlighted the damaging effect of these increases on the average household, by drawing attention to already mounting debts that families are facing;
‘A spokeswoman for the StepChange debt advice charity said above-inflation rises were a cause for concern at a time when households were already struggling with bills. In 2011, 7.3% of the charity’s clients had water arrears worth an average £545, but in 2012 this rose to 10.3% and an average debt of £786’
Sometimes though the developers fund the improvements. Fairfield’s proposed development in Elsenham includes the expansion of their sewerage services paid for by the developer and far in excess of the number of houses currently proposed. A critical eye would regard these moves on the part of the developer (and therefore the service provider Anglian Water) as investing for long-term future development of that site. Irrespective of the merits of the whole scheme or this specific application, at least if the development were to go ahead existing residents would still be able to flush. Things are not so good for other proposed development areas in the district where no sewage upgrades have been proposed or funded and changes in funding rules may make them less likely.
So where does this leave our own Uttlesford ‘Local Non-Plan’ with regard to Saffron Walden? UDC’s water study conducted in 2012 states quite clearly that the town’s waste water services are at capacity. Only major investment in the infrastructure of the town will support the influx of new residents and their associated waste. Any waste water expansion costs will of course be recouped by the water company, through customer bills.
So the true cost of unsustainable development in the majority of Uttlesford is being met through the existing residents’ pocket.