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Draft Water Resources Management Plans Inquiries – A regular future feature

An inquiry has recently been completed into the draft water resources management plan for the Thames Water region.  It lasted some six weeks, was adjudicated upon by two planning Inspectors, involved seven Counsel representing four separate parties (Thames Water, the Environment Agency, Vale of White Horse Council, Oxford County Council, and GARD, a residents group) and included the active participation of several other interested parties (for example, Ofwat and local action groups).

The reason for the inquiry: to assess the adequacy or fitness for purpose of Thames Waters’ proposals for meeting the water requirements of its area over the next 25 years.  Until 2007, water companies had voluntarily provided a management plan for their catchments, but it is only since the introduction of the Water Act 2003 that they have been required to justify their proposals in a public arena; it is these plans that are now reaching inquiry.

In order for Thames Water (or any other water company) to show that it is making provision through a fit for purpose plan for their catchment areas’ water requirements, they must establish that the water demand is adequately predicted and that this prediction is itself met by sufficient water supply.

Critical issues in the Thames Water inquiry (particularly for the Councils, the Agency and GARD) were whether the assessed demand requirements were over-predicted and whether it was appropriate to meet the alleged need by way of a reservoir proposal known as the Upper Thames Reservoir.  The Secretary of State will decide whether any amendments should be directed to be made by Thames Water having considered the Inspectors’ report on these and other issues.

It is likely that this type of inquiry will be a regular feature of the environmental planning world, given that plans must be reviewed annually and revised if there is a material change of circumstances.  The inquiries arising from them are of a particular sort, dealing with water resource policy and detailed water demand prediction analysis.  They have an added resonance given that (at least at present) any specific supply project like a reservoir which is identified in an approved plan will be included in the relevant National Policy Statement.

Three barristers from Landmark Chambers were involved in the case: Matthew Reed represented the Vale of White Horse District Council and Oxfordshire County Council; Nathalie Lieven QC and Richard Turney acted for GARD, the local residents group.