Government must ‘overrule nimbys’ on new reservoirs to combat drought, says infrastructure tsar

Government ministers must be able to overrule opposition from local MPs, councillors and residents to new reservoirs in a bid to combat widespread drought, the infrastructure tsar has warned.

Sir John Armitt, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, said there was “increasing urgency” for more reservoirs amid the threat of water shortages.

Speaking out against the nimbyism – those who say “not in my back yard” – Sir John warned that giving into local campaigns would cost the Conservatives at the polls.

“If you constantly fail to make sure that the basic infrastructure that everyone needs to live their lives is not being provided, then people aren’t going to vote for you, sooner or later,” he said.

The tsar added: “A local politician will clearly do what he can, one way or another, to support his constituents and argue the case as best he can for them. That’s why the decisions need to be made at the national government level.”

His intervention comes as environment secretary George Eustice is said to be pushing for officials to get behind a “national grid for water”.

The cabinet minister is keen on investment in huge project that would see pipelines moving water from wetter parts of western England to the drier east of the country, the Sunday Times reported.

But Eustice is one of several minister said suggesting ideas during a “zombie government” period in which no major investments can move forward until Boris Johnson’s successor at No 10 is chosen by the Tory membership.

Tory hopeful Rishi Sunak has promised to “fast track” approvals for upgrades to reservoirs, help farmers invest in water storage and crack down on water companies who do not address leakages.

And frontrunner Liz Truss has also pledged tough enforcement action on water companies, saying they “need to be held to account” over leakages and lack of investment in infrastructure.

But Minette Batters, the National Farmers Union (NFU) president, said this week that neither Sunak nor Truss had set out a sufficient plan to deal with the water crisis.

“I am calling on the two candidates to commit to food security, and water has to be one of the first places that we start,” Batters told The Guardian. “It’s immoral and unethical to think we can continue to go on allowing our water to be wasted.”

Farming chiefs have warned that some crops – including potatoes and other vegetables – could fail this year due to the heatwave and water supply problems. Batters said the situation was “really serious”.

Farmers have also called for new reservoirs as soon as possible. Andrew Blenkiron, director of the Euston estate in Suffolk, said: “We need reservoirs built next summer, to fill up the following winter.”

An official drought was declared in eight areas of England by the National Drought Group (NDG) on Friday, a body made up of representatives from the government, water companies, the Environment Agency.

England’s drought could persist into the next year, according to the Environment Agency.

John Curtin, executive director for local operations at the EA, said that after the driest summer in 50 years, it would take “weeks’ worth of rain” to replenish water sources.

Three water companies, Welsh Water, Southern Water, and South East Water, have all imposed hosepipe bans, while Yorkshire Water has announced a ban will start on 26 August 26. Thames Water is planning one in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Sunak has been accused of undermining the government’s climate policy as he vowed to boost the production of oil and gas in the North Sea through a new deregulation drive.

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