The Inquiry concerns the Environment Agency’s proposed changes to five water abstraction licences on the Lower Itchen, River Test and Candover Stream.
The Agency says that these changes are necessary in order to meet objectives required by European legislation (principally the Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive) and domestic conservation legislation.
One of the core functions of Southern Water is a statutory duty to provide water to homes and businesses across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Sussex and Kent. They balance this statutory duty with responsibility towards the environment, species and habitats, and it is this balancing exercise which goes to the heart of the Inquiry.
Southern Water say “we have developed a number of potential long-term solutions to supply water to the Western Area including the construction of alternative large-scale water resource solutions, with potential options including desalination. These schemes will take time to implement, however, the Environment Agency wishes to enforce some changes to our abstraction licences immediately.
This will create a period of perhaps ten years or so when we may not be able to supply the expected amount of water to customers should drought conditions arise. The Inquiry will help inform how the company should deal with this interim period.
Until we have implemented the long-term solutions we have planned, the only option available to deliver the quantities of water required to supply the Western Area is to abstract water from the River Test, Candover groundwater and Lower River Itchen under Drought Permits or Drought Orders. If we are not able to do so, during serious drought conditions we will be forced to implement Level 4 drought restrictions in the region (which are the most extreme measures).
If this were to happen, drought restrictions could be imposed on the 1.3 million residents of Hampshire and 140,000 people of the Isle of Wight as frequently as every two years. Clearly, this would put our statutory duty to provide water in jeopardy and would have significant health and safety, as well as economic, consequences for homes and businesses in the region.
I’d like to take this opportunity to reassure you that we are committed to caring for the environment – ensuring that we minimise our impact on wildlife and protected sites and species is one of our key priorities”.
For a full list of the Inquiry documents and details, visit www.hwa.uk.com/projects.
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UPDATE FROM SOUTHERN WATER
The Inquiry was today adjourned until 27 March following the announcement that Southern Water and the Environment Agency are working together on a way forward which would continue to provide resilient supplies to customers while protecting the environment.
In her opening statement to the Inquiry, Justine Thornton QC said: “The planning inquiry process triggered by Southern Water’s appeals has proved useful in enabling both sides to deepen their understanding of their respective positions.
“In particular, the exchange of evidence enabled both parties to focus on devising a pragmatic solution to the complex and potentially conflicting environmental and supply needs in the Southampton West area for an interim period whilst Southern Water develops its permanent supply scheme for the area.
“The solution being devised acknowledges the wide range of interest shown by Interested Parties, enables Southern Water to fulfil its duty to supply its customers in drought and force majeure events, and enables the Agency to closely supervise the manner in which the environment is will be protected.
“Southern Water recognises the importance of the Agency’s regulatory oversight of the environment and looks forward to developing further, during the course of this week and beyond, the co-operative working relationship between the parties which is enabling a resolution to this complex case.”
The progress made by Southern Water and the Environment Agency has been broadly well received. I will keep you posted on these developments as they progress. Information will also be posted on our website in due course.