Households would be willing to pay up to £40 a year more on their water bill to use nature instead of man-made materials to improve river water quality and reduce the risk of flooding.
A study by the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) explored people’s appetite for water companies to pursue nature-based approaches to tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing the sector.
These include flooding, which has already swept through large swathes of the country this winter, and on-going concerns about river pollution stemming from storm overflows.
Cost was the single most important consideration for people when asked to think about what water companies in England and Wales should be prioritising when it comes to infrastructure projects. But despite cost-of-living pressures, consumers were still willing to make some trade-offs to help pay for environmentally-friendly approaches as they recognised they could provide additional benefits.
When presented with different scenarios, the study found households were willing to pay as much as £40 a year more to fund nature-based approaches, instead of man-made solutions like concrete water storage tanks.
Approaches like sustainable drainage systems – sometimes referred to as ‘sponge cities’ – were more appealing to consumers due to being less reliant on man-made materials, having a smaller carbon footprint and being more pleasing on the eye.
Consumers are concerned about climate change and the impact of pollution upon rivers and seas. Addressing these problems in a way which is also kind to the environment strongly appealed to people.
But there was significant scepticism whether water companies could be trusted to deliver and maintain the schemes effectively enough to bring the promised benefits to rivers, wildlife and the wider environment.
Water companies’ business plans setting out their investment proposals for 2025 to 2030 and how much they want to charge customers to pay for it were submitted last October and are currently being scrutinised by the regulator Ofwat.
CCW has found evidence that some companies have reduced the role of nature-based projects – such as sustainable drainage solutions – in favour of building concrete tanks or other man-made approaches.
CCW will be asking Ofwat to consider our research and look closely at the reasons behind companies’ choices around investment as part of its assessment of the plans.
The regulator will make its final decisions on investment, service levels and price limits in December.