Water is our business – and in the East of England it provides us, and many others, with a lot of challenges.

On the one hand ours is the driest region in the UK with a lower average rainfall than Jerusalem – but on the other the risk of flooding is increasing, and it was this issue which was being explored by the Government’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee this week. You can read about the event and watch it online here.

I attended the hearing to represent the water industry and to explain everything we’re doing at Anglian Water to tackle flooding alongside our regional partners, as well giving our view on the challenge ahead.

Climate change threatens to make our weather less predictable and more extreme. Droughts and floods, like those that followed each other in 2012, and coastal surges, like the one in December 2013, are all more likely and our infrastructure needs to be resilient enough to deal with this.

In July 2014, Canvey Island was hit by one of the most extreme rainfall events ever seen in Essex, inundating the island’s drainage infrastructure and causing widespread damage. With the cost of a repeat flood incident estimated at around £2.1bn in damage and £274m in lost economic output, a multi-agency flood response group was formed to coordinate a programme of work and communicate with the Island’s residents.

Since the incident, the partnership, led by Anglian Water, has invested over £2million updating the infrastructure, surveying over 7,000 manholes and gullies, and has spent £300,000 CCTV surveying and jetting over 10km of the drainage network. The work saw teams from the highways agency and Anglian Water sharing jobs and workloads to avoid duplication and get to more issues sooner.

This is exactly the kind of partnership working we will need to engage in more and more as we move forwards.

Very often, taking steps to reduce these risks of flooding and drought can be the key to unlocking growth and prosperity. Inland, surface water and river flooding can threaten homes and businesses, but defence schemes can hugely increase the cost of new development and can be a real obstacle to growth. Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), like rain gardens, swales and permeable pavements, offer a low-tech and inexpensive way to reduce the risk, but uncertainty about their ownership and over who pays to operate and maintain them means there are far fewer than there should be.

The area we serve hosts world renowned research institutions, hubs for innovation and new technology, and is the key provider of agricultural services, food and drink in the UK. The area boasts hundreds of thousands of jobs and provides more than £30 billion to the economy per annum. However, without resilient water management, these leading industries like farming and food and drink production will suffer. More than that, there can be no new housing; no new businesses; our environment will decline, along with tourism and the very essence of what makes this a place people want to live and work.

These are complex challenges which we all have a stake in overcoming. Collaboration with other businesses and local and national Government will be vital in order to coordinate, plan and deliver new, resilient infrastructure.

At the EFRA committee I laid out our seven clear asks of the Government, to help us meet these challenges:

  • Water companies must have more involvement in the planning process for new homes
  • Remove the right of developers to automatically connect new developments to our sewers
  • More action to promote Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)
  • Rural areas need better access to flooding and coastal erosion grants
  • Funding made available for partnership working
  • Support from Government to communicate flood risk
  • Exploring alternative opportunities for sustainable growth

You can read about these asks and the context around them in our publication ‘Building a Resilient Future: Futureproofing our region against the risks of extreme rainfall’ which can be downloaded from here.