Is Croydon regenerating its way to water shortages?

By - Friday 31st August, 2018

Do local development targets take account of water supply?

Despite last winter’s high rainfall, London and the south-east region are classified as ‘seriously water stressed’. The recent heatwave can only have added to the problem. With population growth, Thames Water predicts that demand for water will exceed supply by 10 per cent in 2025 and by 21 per cent in 2040. If this is the case, then there is serious doubt that the growing new homes targets, especially in the Croydon Opportunity Area, are achievable.

One of the flaws of the Croydon Local Plan preparation was the review document’s admission that ‘water consumption data is not available at borough level’. It relied on 2009/10 figures stating that in the Thames area, the daily consumption per person was 163 litres, and in the Sutton and East Surrey area 167 litres – both contrasting with the UK average of 146 litres. It was not clear whether these figures related to domestic consumption, or also included business consumption averaged across the estimated population.

Water metering of low-income families can result in water rationing to levels that harm health

The review document stated that ‘introduction of water meters in existing properties has been pursued partly to drive more efficient water use, however installations in the London region have been lower than the rest of UK’. The lower level of water meters in the Thames area is due to the pressure put on Thames Water several years ago not to force people to convert from rateable value water charging to metered water charging unless they wished to do so. Arguments about the water efficiency of meters has been ongoing since the 1990s, when opponents such as the Public Utilities Access Forum, of which I was secretary, argued that:

  • metering of low-income families can result in water rationing to levels that can contribute to poor health and reduction in water play for children
  • better-off households can afford to keep water consumption high
  • the development of more water-efficient white goods and improved pipe and water-heating systems within new housing developments will reduce the need to use water without potential harmful effects.

Consultants for Croydon Council on the Local Plan recommended ‘driving higher water efficiency in the built sector’ by ‘encouraging use of harvesting and re-use of water (rainwater collection and greywater recycling)’. The council now requires new and adapted buildings to provide measures that ensure an average of 110 litres per person per day. This is not robust enough. Developers of new buildings should also be required to include the most water efficient machinery, equipment, heating and piping systems.

Increasing water supply has to be funded and this a cost to consumers

Increasing water supply is the responsibility of the water companies. It has to be funded and this is a cost to consumers. Croydon Council has admitted that there is a massive shortage of money for infrastructure requirements resulting from the new developments. At the time of the Local Plan debate, there did not appear to be any in-depth study of the energy and water infrastructure implications which could create a crisis at some stage in the next twenty years, especially if the predictions on climate change materialise.

Evidence in the first consultation stage of the Local Plan from Charles Muriithi of the Environment Agency commented that the council’s commissioned Sustainability Appraisal Scoping Report took no position regarding water resources in Croydon. He recommended that a position to promote the protection of water resources to bring the document in line with the National Planning Policy Framework should be included. The council decided not to accept this point even though it is supposed to ensure that the Local Plan conforms with the NPPF. In its evidence, Croydon requested that the inspector consider whether the council has failed to meet the requirement, and to recommend that this be addressed. He did not.

Has the council taken account of changing water usage following the high-rise development of Croydon town centre?

On behalf of the Croydon TUC, I posed the following questions at the Local Plan hearings:

  • have the officers seen the network capacity assessments that developers request of Thames Water when preparing their proposals, and are these public documents (i.e. documents that should be submitted to enable you to assess whether the water network capacity can cope with the growing number of schemes?)
  • can the council provide any statistics from Thames Water that shows the annual water usage in the Opportunity Area to see how it has changed during the downturn following the banking crisis of 2008 and since the new high-rise buildings have been erected?
  • has the council prepared an Integrated Water and Sewage Management assessment for the Opportunity Area to ensure that the water supply and sewage infrastructure consequences of the new office and residential developments can be met, and what evidence did it submit to the Mayor of London’s  consultation on the London Infrastructure Plan 2050?
  • did the council assess the water supply problems faced by the residents in Altitude 25 and what conclusions did it draw?

These were not answered.

Increased water consumption generates increased waste. Thames Water rarely comments on planning applications in Croydon. It did identify ‘an inability of the existing waste water infrastructure to accommodate the needs of the Poplar Walk and Station Road applications’. (15/01419/P and 15/01422/LB).

It is to be hoped that the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s current inquiry into the water industry will provide an opportunity to discuss the urgent issue of water supply. Key questions it is asking include:

  • is regulation of the water industry improving outcomes for consumers and the environment?
  • Is the water industry adequately delivering a ‘twin-track approach’ of increasing water supplies and reducing water demand?
  • How can innovation be increased in the water industry?
  • Above all, can the water companies meet the water needs of an expanding London without this being a tremendous cost to us as customers?
Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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