Coventry Councillor Roadshow | Part 3 | Environment/Rivers - Transcript

I want to talk about Rivers. It's a hugely topical situation right now. And as a company in the sector, we rely on the rivers. So the concepts that we are not passionate about it, considering that our entire lifeblood as an organisation is effectively the journey and cycle of water. I can't explain to you how passionate in the DNA this is from a Severn Trent perspective. That doesn't mean that that is conveyed in the press. And it doesn't mean that if you read the press that you wouldn't think that we are the woe and we are the sins of everybody. So I'm going to give you some statistics around Severn Trent.

Just to get facts on the table. And of course, we want to go further and faster than what we've done today. Now, we launched back in March something called Get River Positive, which was our campaign around being very open and transparent about our performance, about our ambitions, about how we stack up, where we're going to go next.

If you were to read the press, you’d probably think that we are responsible for 90% of reasons for why rivers are poor ecological status. Actually, and the point in the U.K. is true, only 14% of English rivers are actually good ecological status. And the ambition of governments is over 25 years is to get that from 14% to about 75% to 80%.

Now, the slightly concerning thing for all of us is that rivers aren't improving because at every moment we're getting better, agriculture is worsening at the same rate as we are improving. So it won't change the 14% unfortunately, but it will mean that at least you will look at us and think, “gosh, you're the problem” we’ll be categorically clean and be able to say, not one of our assets by 2030 causes one bit of harm to any river in our region. That is our firm commitments that we're signed up to, not one of our 5000 assets causing any harm to rivers by 2030, and we'll be dramatically quicker than the other companies in our sector. But we are 100% committed to it organisationally.

Every three months, we have a letter called the Get River Positive Newsletter. If you are interested in the topic, I would urge you to give your name, we’ll sign you up, and it will give you all the information, all the details that comes out of it.

Now, in terms of how we're doing it. We're spending 100 million pounds a year every year. We've increased sewer storage capacity and we've already reduced phosphate and ammonia levels by 80% since privatisation. And we're going to improve them by another 80% over the next 15 years, down to negligible levels.

These are the five things we signed up to, just to give you a sense. So we know there are actually people that are interested in the topic, and that's the first thing, which is show me there is no harm. For people, actually, that they just want amenities they want a chance to swim in a river. They want us to make access readily available at Carsington to be able to use the water. And we get that. So there’s more to do on amenities, there are some people that say, I know it's not you, but I don't know how to talk to 9000 farmers but I can find you. You are a single person. You are one single chief exec. So please help the farmers - and we're doing that. We've offered every farm in our region, all 9000 farmers, a grant of up to £30,000 per farm if they move to having practices that don't cause harm. We've only had a handful sign up which probably does indicate the issue, but we have offered every farmer £30,000 in our region.

Other people say to us, actually, “I want beautiful habitats. Do more tree planting, make things more biodiverse, help me save species.” We're doing lots of stuff in the area as well. We're actually planting trees to the tune of the area the size of Gloucester. The whole city of Gloucester is the area of biodiversity we’re looking after - 5000 hectares of land.

People say to me “don't tell me stuff because I don't really believe you. Actually publish it openly and make sure that somebody else tests your data, looks at it.” So we're launching a new community group with different wildlife societies. They will look at all of our data, they will assess it and they will sign it off. So it won’t be our data, it will be independently audited data.

And again, summary of the facts that we know these operations to no longer be any cause of issue by 2030. And we're also creating very locally bathing rivers. So we've got to open up some more reservoir sites for more sports. But we know that people actually want to bathe while swimming is one of those hobbies is dramatically more popular post lockdown.

But then thereafter there will be an amenity which creates a kind of a safe area for families to go to, people to go to, to get the paddleboard out, to get the canoe out or to swim. That will all go live in the next three years. We also want to have others is my point about helping others, 76% of river health issues are the start of it, of course, but others are committed to helping other people to solve that problem.

Now, actually, councils do have a role to play on that. The assessment by the environment agency says about 10% of water quality issues could well be down to councils, house building, road maintenance activities of that nature. So I think it's one of the as well to shine a light on is actually to show that evidence from the EA because there will become a moment in time when water companies are going to be less I guess then council contribution for river quality. And we ought to be very clear that we effectively need to be able to pull together on this.

We were definitely the biggest, in the eyes of the public, the biggest problem we're shortly going to be a small problem, but we are then going to be this big debate about if rivers are no better water companies who spend billions, who's actually to blame. So I think it's in everyone's interest to begin working on that topic now.

And we also have River Rangers. So on every one of our river stretches we have a dedicated river range, our absolute experts in that river stretch. If, you’d ever like to go for a walk with a river ranger, but again, we can organise that. And they are brilliant, brilliant people. And I think you get a real insight to the scale of the work that we're doing. So if you got a team day out, I would recommend a walk with River Rangers.

So my last topic to summarise on the environment before I move onto Green Recovery. So we know that our big challenges for environment is population growth, it's also climate change. I mean, this year, it's been the Sahara in the Midlands, isn't it? I mean, I never used to think I'd see consistent days of 40 degrees in Nottingham. And yet I seen consistent days of 40 degrees in Nottingham.

For everybody else in the Midlands. They've loved it. So I understand that you've absolutely loved the driest six months since records began. It's been a wonderful year for barbecues. Unfortunately, if you're a water company, then that has been quite a tricky time. And the reality is we are preparing ourselves for the fact that it probably isn't a one off summer, this is probably the new norm. I'm investing heavily on that basis.

Now the first thing that comes back to us is, okay, what's going to happen? Are you going to have a hosepipe ban? As you have seen, we are fully committed were not having a hosepipe ban that we're one of only a handful of companies to not have one. That is not by chance. We spent a lot of money to avoid one. We moved our water around the network endlessly, we pumped endlessly in terms of water movements, and it was very hard work for lots of people. But we have escaped the need to put restrictions on customers. We are also going to be spending extra tens of millions of pounds over winter to get all of our reservoirs back to the right level to make sure they are starting to get more water sources in for the summer. We know the second thing people say is, “but if you fix leakage, there wouldn’t be a problem at all”. Now, in line with Europe, it's not as good as Germany. Germany is excellent in fact. They are brilliant at leakage, but taking Germany out the equation is broadly as good as most of the European countries. So it's not like we have a scale issue in terms of versus the Europeans. It just isn't as good as it should be.

So we are committed to halving leakage again by 2045, and we are looking to see if we can accelerate that over the next period time. And I ask would, we need to get more clear with this that actually if you look at Germany, there is a different relationships. Yes, the water companies definitely have had huge investments to bring leaks down, but the average person in Germany uses a lot less water per day, this is per person per day. There's been more pipe investment during that period of time. Leakage is the lowest it's ever been and yet still people use more.

It's definitely power hoses. It's definitely sprinklers. It's definitely those ridiculously sized hot tubs and kind of like dinosaur shaped paddle balls. It's all of that stuff. But also it's just not thought of as a nation. Just bear that in mind. I will do my bit I promise you, tens of million is going to water resources and a huge amount leakage. I could do with some help in terms of everybody else playing their part.

And that means that we're also going to treble the rate at which we install meters. People worry about meters, they say, “but my bill is going to double.” Your bill isn't going to change. In actual fact, most people’s dramatically come down. So it's a thought process around it rather than a reality. Now we give a two year guarantee that if you go on a meter and your bill goes up, just go back off the meter if that upsets you because we know it's very, very, very unlikely that that's going to be the case. So we give this two year guarantee just to help people relax and as you know right now in Coventry, we did this huge smart metering trial. It is going brilliantly. And if you look at the big facts, I would say how much money do you think you can save if you were to just half your shower or your family half all of their shower times. They did nothing else for this winter, but they half the amount of time they currently spend in the shower. How much money is that would you save on your energy bill?

Any guesses?

So your energy bill is £2,500…

So you would save seven hundred pounds on your energy bill if you just persuaded your family to halve their shower time. But 5 minutes is a perfectly acceptable situation. So if you use half from 10 minutes of 5 minutes, you would save seven. Hundred pounds on your energy bill.

So what else are we doing? So we're doing 5000 hectares of biodiverse land. We're planting 1.3 million trees over the course of the next five years.