Tougher penalties and fines on water companies will be reinvested back into a new Water Restoration Fund, Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey is expected to announce next week, making polluters pay for damage they cause to the environment. This fund will deliver on-the-ground improvements to water quality and support local groups and community-led schemes which help to protect our waterways.
It will form part of a new Plan for Water, to be published shortly, which will map out the government’s action plan for tackling pollution, boosting water supplies, driving up performance and toughening up enforcement against companies who fail to deliver improvements.
The fund will help local groups – bringing together local NGOs, councils, farmers and others – to identify the biggest issues and direct investment to where it is most needed to improve our rivers, lakes and streams.
It will support projects to look after our water environment, improve management of our waters and restore protected sites. These could include restoring wetlands, creating new habitats in important nature sites, tackling invasive non-native species and ‘rewiggling’ rivers – adding natural bends to improve water quality and biodiversity.
The Environment Secretary is also expected to publish a six-week consultation on strengthening the Environment Agency’s ability to impose sanctions on water companies without going through the courts.
The consultation sets out the government’s preferred option for lifting the upper cap on civil penalties on water companies, allowing unlimited fines. These penalties will be quicker and easier to enforce although the most serious cases will still be taken through criminal proceedings.
The Plan for Water will include measures on every source of pollution – storm overflows, agriculture, plastics, road run-off and chemicals – as well as managing the pressures on our water supply.
Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said:
I know how important our beautiful rivers, lakes, streams and coastlines are for people and nature – and I couldn’t agree more than more needs to be done to protect them.
I want to make sure that regulators have the powers and tools to take tough action against companies that are breaking the rules and to do so more quickly.
Through the Water Restoration Fund, I will be making sure that money from higher fines and penalties – taken from water company profits, not customers – is channelled directly back into the rivers, lakes and streams where it is needed. We know that around 310 miles of rivers each year have been improved through community-led projects – we must build on that success.
Further detail on how the Water Restoration Fund will be managed will be set out in due course.
Since 2015 the Environment Agency has secured fines of over £144 million, including £90 million from a fine imposed on Southern Water in 2021.