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Water fines now fund restoration projects (after the devastation of pollution)

£11m acquired through government penalties is already available to pay for work which directly improves the beleaguered water environment. 

calm lake during daytime

According to a Downing Street press release issued today, 9th April 2024, the new Water Restoration Fund [WRF] uses all funds raised from water companies through fines over the past two years. This ringfenced money must be spent on the restoration of and reinvestment in Britain’s national water network, and surrounding landscapes. 

‘This could include activities to improve the water environment and green spaces in areas where water companies have been issued fines or penalties,’ the announcement explained. ‘The launch of the Fund follows significant action taken in recent months to hold water companies to account, including a ban on bonuses for water company executives where firms have committed serious criminal breaches, subject to Ofwat consultation, and plans to quadruple the Environment Agency’s regulatory capacity, enabling them to carry out 4,000 water company inspections by the end of this financial year. ‘

Up to £11million is already available, with the figure set to rise as more fines are issued. Grants are now open to a variety of applicants, including private businesses with agricultural interests, neighbourhood collectives, and other local organisations. Environment Secretary Steve Barclay described the Fund as the latest in ‘tough action to ensure our regulators are well-equipped to hold those who pollute [out waterways] to account.’ 

Given the extent of Britain’s water pollution problem, in terms of both inland and coastline, the announcement has been broadly welcomed. Natural England’s Chief Executive, Marian Spain, said it was a ‘great  opportunity for landowners, communities and nature bodies to help make a real difference to the condition of our Sites of Special Scientific Interest and to help restore natural processes.’ 

However, others have voiced some concern over the relatively low sum made available, pointing to decades of neglect the UK network has endured. The recent proposal from water suppliers in England for a ‘world-leading’ upgrade and update of the system, to the tune of £10.2billion, gives some idea as to the scale of the problem now facing the industry, and taxpayers.

‘Whilst any money that goes towards improving our water environment is helpful, this £11 million is just a fraction of the investment needed to restore our rivers, given that no stretch of river in England is currently in good overall health,’ said Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of The Rivers Trust. 

‘What’s more, it is hard to see how this fund will improve the health of our waterways as the Government claims, when it is entirely resourced from water company fines and therefore relies on environmental damage happening in the first place,’ he continued. ‘We are disappointed to see yet another Government scheme rolled out without warning and consulting with stakeholders. We need to see a major boost in funding and resources to improve our water environment to go alongside this particular funding stream, enabling a truly integrated approach to land and water management that will deliver for nature and for everyone.’

More on water pollution: 

UK water companies claim ‘world-leading plans’ will end sewage spills

Urgent improvements needed to UK bathing water forecasts

South East Rivers Trust completes major project for World Wetlands Day

Image: Sian Bentley-Magee

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