A water company, Southern Water - which serves customers in south eastern England, has states that customer demand is estimated to be double its available supply by 2020. As a result of climate change, a reduction of the amount of water allowed to be taken from natural sources, and a rise in population demand would outstrip supply. The company's plan for 2020-2025 sets out how it will overcome the deficit by reducing leakage by 15% and encourage customers to use less water.
This could be good news for Wales, if we had control of our own natural resources and could benefit from a fair price for our water. For amongst our rich resources is the literal stuff of life – water. Water is likely to become a valuable resource for the people of Wales in future years, and who owns, it who controls it, and who benefits is likely to remain one of the key issues, of potential dispute between Westminster and Cardiff Bay. While our country’s voice has been significantly strengthened since 1999, with various Wales related acts, as yet we still do not have the same degree of control of our natural resources as either Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Not for nothing does the issue of water rightly still understandably raises strong emotions and stirs long memories here in Wales. Some six years ago Boris Johnson (then Mayor of London, lately, after May 2015 an MP, former feign secretary and now with other things on his mind) was wittering on about the need for a network of canals being needed to carry water from the wet North to the dry South (for the ‘wet North’ read ‘Wales).
Boris's revolutionary thought, not to mention his poor grasp of geography, was not a new idea, back in 1973, what was then the Water Resources Board, a now defunct government agency, wrote a major report that advocated building a whole raft of infrastructure to aid the movement of water, not to mention constructing freshwater storage barrages in the Ouse, Wash and Morecambe Bay, using a network of canals to move water from north to south, extending reservoirs and building new aqueducts, not to mention constructing a series of tunnels to link up river basins to aid the movement of water.
Despite the demise of the Water Resources Board in 1974 (two years before the 1976 drought) and its replacement by regional water management bodies, which were privatised in the 1980’s this issue has never really gone away. In 2006, the Environment Agency produced a report entitled "Do we need large-scale water transfers for south-east England ?" which in a refreshingly honest answer to its own question at the time was an emphatic ‘no’.
That said, faced with a prolonged period of drought in the South East of England, DEFRA itself held a drought summit on the 20th of February of 2012. The then Con Dem Government stated that it remained committed to the remaining legislative measures set out in its Water for Life agenda , which later became the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Act.
That is as they say history, but whatever Westminster eventually decides to do in relation to water resources, we in Wales still need to have full democratic control of our own resources. Our resources incidentally should include those parts of our country where Severn Trent Plc runs our natural resources for a fat profit.
|The plan for water in 1973|
This process can begin with repatriating control of the Crown Estates and transferring control of lands in (and off-shore) to the Welsh Government in Cardiff. For the life of me I can see no realistic reason why this feudal anachronism cannot be consigned to the dustbin of history.
We need a whole Wales strategy to develop and to conserve our water supplies and our planning regulations will need to be tweaked or rewritten accordingly. We need to take a long hard look at our water resources and what we get for them and how we can develop them.
I see absolutely no reason why the Welsh people cannot fully benefit from any future exploitation of Welsh resources, including our water. Most politically aware people would not have been particularly shocked to discover that coincidentally that the Government of Wales Act (2006) thanks largely to Peter (now Lord) Hain (amongst others) specifically excluded the Assembly from making any laws relating to water supply – hmm – odd that isn't it?
Now such duplicitous behaviour on the part of New or re-born Old Labour is not to be unexpected. The problem is that it does little to engender any trust or visible demonstration of an understanding of devolution or Wales, especially when the bearded one’s version of Labour starts talking about re-nationalising the Water industry.
Putting Tory and Labour spin and rhetoric aside, the bottom line is that all our water resources should belong to the Welsh people, not to Private corporations or to the UK Government. Any future draft Wales Bill should strengthen the powers that we in Wales have over our natural resources and associated planning processes and devolve control of those parts of the Severn Trent water franchise to Wales.