Why does it take for ever to improve our lives in the UK through investment?

          Recently  I met the senior management of Thames Water.

          They told me of the costs and delays they are experiencing in preparing all the necessary documentation for their new London sewer tunnel. They argue that this large  civil engineering project is essential if we are to handle the volumes of dirty water London now produces, without having to put dirty water into the river when there is rainfall swelling the drains with surface water. The volume of paperwork and the detail of the presentations is such that millions have to be spent on the application, and much time is absorbed in the authorities coming to a decision. This is for a project which will be underground.

         Of course every major project should be properly considered, with objectors having their chance to say “No”.  Of course a large company wishing to put in such a facility needs to offer guarantees and assurance about how it will handle site works during construction, and how it will protect the interests of property owners affected by its project. All this need not take as long and be as complicated as it now is.

          I pushed along with other MPs present for an early decision on extra reservoir capacity in the South East. It seems quite obvious that in dry summers (we might have one again sometime, with all the global warming we are promised)  we are already short of water. As the population grows and people want to use more water we will need bigger supplies. Adding emergency water desalination plants is not as good a solution as simply collecting more of the rainwater in our rivers at times of flood and plenty. We have had more than enough water in our rivers this winter to fill many times the reservoir capacity we currently enjoy.

                 The company seems interested in the idea of a new reservoir at Abingdon and has looked at  plans. Whitehall watchers   think a project like this would take ten years to get through planning. It is high time we did better than this. The moderately few people who would be advsersely affected should be generously compensated at an early stage. Surely it is better to pay out at a premium to affected property owners, instead of spending a fortune on fighting them through various rounds of a planning battle only one side can win.  If someone wanted to put a reservoir over my home I would object long and hard. If they offered to buy me out at a decent premium so I could afford a better house I would take the money. I hasten to add no-one does want to build a reservoir near me, so I do not write this out of the hope of personal gain.

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83 Comments

  1. Brian Taylor
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    I agree with all you say,but why did Caroline Spelman and all previous Secretary of State at DEFFRA? They all refused permission?!!!

  2. colliemum
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Ten years to get the planning agreement for a proposed sewer? Blimey.

    It is very strange indeed that on the one hand the bog-standard housing estates can and will be build within a year of planning applications, preferably on public open spaces and of course with no chance of being challenged – while it can take 20 years and more to get housing estates built on huge inner-city brownfield sites. And that’s just for housing, not for those vital infrastructures like sewers or reservoirs.

    One wonders how we ever managed to win WWII, what with having to manufacture huge amounts of armaments, planes, tanks, while dealing with food production and bomb damages. Ten years planning for that? Well, the war would have been over before our present planners would’ve given their agreement to build those airfields even …

    Perhaps a courageous MP or minister could start an initiative, going through all planning law line by line and reduce the bureaucratic demands by 50%? Wouldn’t that also save lots of money?

    • uanime5
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Firstly it takes 10 years to get planning for the reservoir, not the sewer.

      Secondly while planning laws take some time to be complete they’re not the only thing that can delay a project. For example if your project requires specialist equipment you have to find a firm that knows how to use this equipment and you’re limited by when this firm can work on your project.

      Thirdly in WW2 the UK was able to manufacture large volumes of equipment by using existing factories that either made this equipment or could be converted to make this equipment. Building new factories and making all the machines that go in them would simply have taken too long.

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 31, 2013 at 5:58 am | Permalink

        Why are you such a defeatist? Where there is a will, leadership and people work together it can usually be done quite quickly. The problem is the total lack of direction and vision from the top.

        • Denis Cooper
          Posted March 31, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

          I think “defeatist” is a generous description.

        • uanime5
          Posted March 31, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

          Well if everything was done by one company then it probably could be done quicker. Unfortunately major construction projects involves dozens of different companies, state departments, and the local people each of which have different priorities and timetables. So unless everyone has exactly the same goals it will not be done quickly.

          • Edward2
            Posted March 31, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

            Uni,
            Yes but…ten years?
            Is that really an acceptable delay for any major project, just to get approvals?

  3. lifelogic
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Indeed everything in the UK (both state sector and private sector) is tied up in largely pointless red tape and paperwork. This all put in place for the benefit of job creation schemes, for largely parasitic paper pushers. Be it bats, newts, butterflies, water quality, gender impacts, disability considerations, environmental impact, carbon impact, equality implications, health and safely, EU implications, noise implication ………..

    HS2 is already blighting thousands of properties for years to come. As I understand it, in rural areas you will get some compensation if you are remotely close to the track but in urban areas you can be ten yards away and get nothing. Hopefully the daft line, costing perhaps ten times what it will ever be worth, will never be built. This just to save a few minutes on the trip to (just outside) Birmingham. Time that could be saved simply by a simpler and better ticketing system, perhaps conducted while in motion on the train.

    Meanwhile the desperately needed 5 runway Heathwick is not even on the drawing board.

    We are governed by donkeys driven by a religion of pro EU, fake green, endless borrowing and waste, and an every larger state sector at the expense of the 80% who have to pay for all the nonsense.

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Why does it take for ever to improve our lives in the UK through investment?

      Simple politicians make the wrong “investments”, for the wrong reasons (politics lobby groups and religion), in the wrong places and then bureaucrats inconvenience it all and make a good living and pensions out of so doing.

    • Bazman
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Will the high speed rail not be caught up in the same red tape that you talk about? Oh! It will not? How do you square this latest fantasy off then, as many will have the same anti views of 5 runway Heathwick and red tape as you do of the rail link. Maybe both will not be built? Or both will be built with no regard for any of your planning, green butterfly quackery. Which is it in your fantasy world. Red tape or no red tape?

      • Edward2
        Posted March 31, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

        It rather depends whether the project is paid for by private sector money or is using huge sums of taxpayers money.

  4. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Well I say Holcombe Brook needs a resevoir just over my house instead of a trickling brook which dries up in summer .The compensation might buy me an acre to plant an orchard and a small house ( not to big..too much cleaning).
    A few years ago , when we were threatened with another water shortage , I was seriously considering an underground water tank:then it started raining and didn’t stop.
    Ten years for planning permission is ludicrous. How can they justify stretching out time so long to keep working hours?
    Water stores/resevoirs also have a by product of sailing etc , yet I do think desalination would help Cerebos out.

  5. alan jutson
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    A compensation package with a decent premium early ?

    Absolutely, market value plus 50% and objections would very nearly vanish.
    Indeed we may even have people complaining that a project did not go close enough to include them !

    Why 50%.

    Because the government could take up to 7% in stamp duty, add on solicitors fees, costs for new carpets, furnishings etc etc and you probabl;y will end up with a simple 25% premium at the end of it all, anything less and it is not worth the hastle.

    House moves are a huge expense, that is why the market has slowed down.

    Unfortunately the above is just one of the problems, it would seem to me that too many departments, organisations, vested interest groups, and jobsworths are involved in almost any sizable project these days.
    But that is what happens when you are a small island with millions of people crammed onto it, and are one of the most densly populated countries in the world, and we then decide to build on flood planes, areas of scientific interest, green belt, conservation areas, and the like.

    So many new houses built , so many more required, but our infrastructure is in many places completely overloaded to such a degree that efficient movement of anything is compromised.

    What do other country’s do ?

    France seems to be able to move projects forward rather more rapidly from concept to completion !

    • alan jutson
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Just remembered a compensation scheme which was run in the 1970’s when Heathrow was wanting to expand with the number of flights.

      All residents within a number of miles radius were offered noise insulation (secondary double glazing) to their homes for free, but they also had to have an electronic fan installed in each room for ventilation if they wanted the double glazing.
      This electric fan had to fit into a 225mm (9 inch) square hole, on the outside wall of each room where new glazing was fitted.
      Thus internal decoration was destroyed, the outside appearance of the property compromised, electric cables (surface mounted) were run to power it, and the hole void was not allowed to have a closing facitity when the fan was not in use.
      Thus every room had a hole to the outside because that was what was decided by some jobsworth who dreamed up this scheme.

      Almost everyone took up the free work, but within a year (after inspection of the installation) 95% of people had taken the fan out, and filled in the void.

      Why?

      Because the fan when it was working made more noise than the aircraft, and when switched off the cold draught blew through the house through the huge holes knocked out of the walls.

      No matter how many people protested at the time that they only wanted the secondary glazing and no fans, the scheme would not allow it.

      Hence huge sums of money wasted on fitting and scrapping fans.

      If you look carefully you can still see the huge amount of making good on thousands of houses which surround Heathrow some 30 years later indeed some of the grills still remain although the inside has long been plastered over.

      Why is it we never seem to get it right, with some practical commonsense.

      It would have been so simple at the time just to give residents/owners the option, fan or no fan, and at the same time saved hundreds of thousands of pounds.

      No joined up thinking AGAIN.

      Will we ever learn?

      • Johnny Norfolk
        Posted March 30, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        You just could not make it up. If a room becomes stuffy or has some condensation how about opening a window.
        We are very poorly served by our civil servants as they have no common sense

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 30, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        All too typical of government schemes alas. Look at all the roof PV bling and the green deal now.

      • sm
        Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

        Why not triple glazing?
        Plus planning to penalize noisy aircraft and encourage quieter/larger planes.

    • brian
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      I have read that France pays twice the market price as compensation. I don’t know if this is correct but could account for faster decisions and could be cheaper in the long run.

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 30, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

        Indeed but officials are more interest in their personal compensations, jobs and pensions not those of the blighted. The more goes to them the less they can waste on themselves.

  6. Alan Wheatley
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    The London sewer tunnel came up on a recent TV programme, where it was argued that there were downsides to the scheme proposed and there are better alternatives that would achieve the same result with much less adverse impact. This was not so much a planning issue as the big company only considering the big scheme, unable to do small and diverse.

    Also, this is the water company looking at a water problem from only their perspective. Where is the strategic view? For instance, if there are major impact projects as a result of London getting bigger and bigger, would it not be better to put a limit on the size of London? Or, expressed as a positive, making other locations more attractive?

  7. David Price
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    According to some reports, those of us who are Thames Water customers yet live outside the area of benefit of this new super sewer will be stung with a significant increase in our water bills.

    Did you happen to raise that issue with the TW management when they were complaining about the extra costs they don’t have to meet personally?

    • Credible
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Yes indeed. I am paying to a private monopoly for my water and the directors are on a nice earner from our money. It took several days of water pouring down our street from a burst pipe before we even caught sight of a Thames Water van.

    • alan jutson
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      David

      Yes, think the cost is going to be £80.00 each.

    • Nick Thompson
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      That maybe so but all water company costs are average across the customer base – there is no geographic separation. Currently those customers who live in the countryside are more expensive to serve than ones who live in cities – population density and pipe capacity utilisation rates etc – more people using the pipes in London more often, smaller length of pipe per customer etc. Less surface water drainage in the city as well. So currently those Thames Water customers who live outside of London are in effect being subsidised by those live in London – even when the costs of the super sewer are taken into account the people who live in London will still be subsidising the bills of those who live in the country.

      Why is this allowed? It is allowed in order that Welsh or otherwise hill farmers or people who live in remote location have access to water and sewerage services for public health and sanitation reasons.

      • David Price
        Posted March 31, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        There are no Welsh hill farmers in the Thames Water area.

        I very much doubt there is less surface run off into drainage systems in a large city like London compared to outlying towns such as Wokingham and rural areas. As to subsidies, those of us outside London are going to be stung for £80 or so a year specifically to subsidise this new London-only drainage facility.

        I do wonder how much of TW’s revenue has gone into maintaining and developing the services compared to bonuses to staff and the dividends paid to foreign wealth funds. I begin to wonder how much corporation tax they’ve paid and why the taxpayer now being asked to underwrite TW’s borrowings, wasn’t the whole point of privatisation to release the taxpayer from such responsibilities?

  8. Peter Colman
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Government can’t help itself, it will always get in the way of progress. I believe that the problem stems from a lack of individual accountability.

    One of the hardest things to find in the civil service has to be someone willing to make a decision. To say, unequivocally yes or no, requires an individual to put up his head above the parapet. Such a person will quickly become known as a trouble maker and he will be unlikely to be promoted. Individualism is not tolerated in government service. That is why decisions take so long. Only when every possible box has been ticked, every loophole closed, every objection smothered, when the yes or no answer emerges by default, will a decision be published, or else passed up for ministerial approval.

    How can this be fixed? I don’t really know – only if a system can be implemented where people are rewarded for decisiveness, where buck-passing is punished, where individuals, rather than departments, are held accountable, will this improve. At least you’re asking the question.

  9. Mike Stallard
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    If you are asked for your views, as a bureaucrat, on something about which you know little and care less, I suggest your reaction is this: do nothing for as long as possible. That way, you cannot be wrong. It also gives the (wrong) impression that you are working very hard, sounding out important people, doing cost analyses and looking into possible legal loopholes. There is a very good chance that the problem will go away.

    Hence the delays, not just for this vital project, but also for our Free School and for several other important projects (Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Lansley might have something to say here) which have been past the bureaucratic nightmare.

    • David in Kent
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      My experience of the bureaucratic approval process is similar to that noted by your other posters. There is no upside for the bureaucrat, only downside.
      The only solution is to remove the bureaucrats from the process altogether and lavishly to compensate the individual losers as you suggest.
      The money saved on lawyers, enquiries and bureaucrats will pay for the compensation. Making the promoter of the project liable for any unanticipated harms will ensure they are very careful.

      • stred
        Posted March 30, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        Compensation- aka Bunging Off.

        Water companies love all this. All the costs of delay and bureaucracy are added to bills. The project cost is maximised as objections are satisfied and all is passed on in turnover and profit share.

        On the south coast the sewage had to be improved, owing to objections by ‘surfers agains sewage’. They chose splashing around in freezing cold water off the existing outfall as a way of enjoying themselves and had a stand to support the new scheme. When I told them they should surf somewhere else and keep bills down for the rest of us, they were amazed at my lack of understanding.

        The project is nearly finished now. The electrically powered pumping stations are marvels of design. Even the walls are flint panelled brick.
        The sewage travels uphill to a new plant, then down to a new outfall not far from the old one. I would not want to surf there even though it is UV treated. Co2 production is far higher.

        The running costs and capital have already increased bills towards the highest in the south. They used to be among the lowest. Water, power, and council tax now take half my rental income. It used to be a quarter.

  10. oldtimer
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    You make good points. Ten years is far too long. The process is far too bureaucratic. It can also be meaningless if a Minister decides to overule the decision of the planning enquiry – as happened locally when a Tesco supermarket application was approved (by Mr Prescott) despite overwhelming local objections.

  11. Andyvan
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Most problems that business face in doing anything are caused by government. I know many business owners that would like to take on staff, expand, move and do all manner of other things but are restricted and taxed to the point that it becomes uneconomic to even try. This is not some survey or opinion based on not much but actual business owners that I know personally. All have similar experiences, all regard government as the number one enemy of business.
    I would go further and say that government materially degrades the lives of it’s tax slaves and hampers wealth creation in every area it interferes with. It also institutionalizes poverty and creates an underclass with it’s laws and policies.
    I watched Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” part 1 and 2 the other night and it was not like a film, more a documentary of the creeping strangulation of western society by government. Watch it and judge for yourself.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Given than Ayn Rand claimed thousands of dollars in healthcare for an illness caused by smoking for several decades it’s clear that her philosophy that the private sector is best only applies when she doesn’t need state help.

      • Bazman
        Posted March 30, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        Right wing fantasy. Very common except when it applies to the supporter.

      • cosmic
        Posted March 30, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

        Yes, obvious humbugs aren’t worth listening to, such as all those Champagne Socialists – which is most of them who get to any prominence and especially those who make a career of it.

        Perhaps Ayn Rand was trying to change the system from within and was attempting to do her bit to expose the nonsense and collapse it?

        Fidel was never seen without a cigar.

        • Bazman
          Posted March 31, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          I doubt Rand was and Castro’s Cuba was a big exporter of cigars. You are just trying to make it fit.

          • cosmic
            Posted March 31, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

            I was pulling his leg.

            Yours too by the looks of it.

        • uanime5
          Posted March 31, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          No Ayn Rand opposed paying for the welfare system until she needed it, then tried to get as much as she could. This is nothing to do with changing the system from within; which would involve working in a welfare department, rather than demanding a handout.

          • cosmic
            Posted April 1, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

            Disgustin’

      • Edward2
        Posted March 31, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        Uni,
        Are you saying that as a taxpayer she was not entitled to health care just because she was not a fully enthusiastic supporter of the state system?
        An odd logic, which ends with citizens having to prove their enthusiasm for the State systems before they can benefit from them.
        Very North Korea
        Criticism is a Crime…….Orwell

        • Bazman
          Posted March 31, 2013 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

          She was entitled to all benefits like the rest of the fools.

          • Edward2
            Posted April 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

            A bit harsh on those hard up citizens who accept hand outs to label them all fools Baz.

  12. Electro-Kevin
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    A semantic point to make here again (sorry John)

    “…improve our lives.”

    ‘Improve’ ?

    We’re not talking about *improvement* here but about the basic action required to reverse our slide towards poverty.

    I do not believe for one minute that more reservoirs in the SE (or elsewhere) would have been needed had we not lost control of our borders and increased our population by millions in just over a decade.

    Of their various public services I hear executives saying “Ah. Your bills are high but you are paying for improvements in the future.” Ten years later where are they ? Would you take such piffle from your garage mechanic or restarauteur if they presented you with an eye watering bill ?

    “We’re getting a new cooker.”

    One suspects that the planning delays for reservoirs, et al, owe very much to a certain group of middle-class professionals in the UK who get rich on such legal to-ings and fro-ings.

    • APL
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      Electro-Kevin: “had we not lost control of our borders and increased our population by millions in just over a decade.”

      Two things EK.

      1. It isn’t a matter of ‘lost’ control.

      2. Yes, the population explosion is responsible for much of the stress on our infrastructure, be it; too much traffic, too high demand for water during our brief dry spells, high demand for housing and so on.

      But you will not see one politician stand up and say why this is – yet they blithely forecast population to increase to 80 million.

      It is of course the politicians who have brought this state of affairs about. Yet they reward themselves with sinecures on the red benches, knighthoods and other baubles all at, once again, our expense.

  13. ong
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the Abingdon reservoir project is taking longer to consider because other schemes using old canals to transport water across the country may be more cost effective and will not swallow up more land in the south:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/drought/9178003/Rivers-to-be-linked-to-ease-drought-under-water-company-plans.html

    • behindthefrogs
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Some years ago the idea of transfering water between river catchments using canals and other methods was rejected for scientific reasons. The biological risks involved were regarded as unacceptable. I am not aware that the risks have changed or any proposals been made to ameliorate them.

      • Mark
        Posted March 30, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        That sounds a very fishy excuse to me. We already have Birmingham supplied from Wales, Manchester from the Lakes, Glasgow from the lochs.

        • behindthefrogs
          Posted March 31, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

          The problem is not one of supplying drinking water to remote locations. The water transferred for the cities that you quote goes directly into their reservoirs. The problem is caused by linking river catchments by passing water and all the living matter that it contains between rivers. Nearly all the proposals to use canals to transfer water do just that as the canals already link the rivers but very little water flows between them. It becomes particularly acute when water from downstream in one river is transferred to the upper reaches of another river.

          • Mark
            Posted April 1, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

            Perhaps you could cite some real science on this related to England. I don’t think there is that much difference between one river basin and the next in our small country.

  14. The PrangWizard
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I live fairly close to the site of the once proposed reservoir near Abingdon. Maybe 5 miles or so as the crow flies. It was in the proposal stage for a number of years, there were presentations and consultations, but then I think it was abandoned, or at least deferred. I don’t know why, maybe it rained. I think it would benefit the area beyond it’s main purpose, they almost always become attractive amenities once built.
    As for paying a premium for land needed to get these things going it would never be enough, some people would hold out, supported by the short-termers, the backward lookers, the preservation loonies and the BBC in particular as usual looking for negativity and sensation; they are a plague on England; they set the agenda and have a veto on just about everything. We have been in decline as a nation for decades because of this sort of thing while other countries move onwards and embrace the new.
    Only some kind of major crisis will wake people from their complacency. Vast fortunes in tax revenues are wasted by government on all sorts of things which are not needed. And as Mr Duncan-Smith has said, welfare spending is out of control.

    • Mark
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if someone thought the area could also be used for an airport?

      It’s right on the GWR just West of Didcot (which could have been its power station!), with good links via the A34 to the M4 and M40, with space enough for at least four runways – and the land is flat. An innovative solution would combine with reservoirs between the runways.

  15. Acorn
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Our not so brave politicians insist on delegating every decision that has to be made to some “independent” quango. They are scared stiff of being blamed if something goes wrong and threatens the chance of getting re-elected. Hence the country lacks any clear, “all-in-this-together” primary direction for its future, that the non-elite can understand. Like having a Chairman / CEO who sets the company plan and makes sure every body in the company understands it. We leave it to quangos that all have their own agendas and live in elite mental and physical silos.

    Why do we never get a Terry Leahy or a Stuart Rose as prime minister???

    Naturally, there has to be an “absolutely independent transparent” review and enquiry and, then another review of the enquiry, before we can get the shovels out of the van. Meanwhile, what looked like a project with a good payback on an overnight capital finance basis; will be at least doubled if not trebled by the time it’s producing. Remember the original estimates for the Olympic Games facilities, and that was with a near slash and burn style planning?

    • Nick Thompson
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      In the utility sector quangos are 100% necessary – in order to have independence from the government. Credit rating agencies assessment of utility credit worthiness is 40% based on the regulatory environment – political independence is highly regarded. This assessment affects the cost of debt and considering that 60% of a network utilities customer bill goes to paying debt the cost that networks borrow at is pretty important. Having a quango with political independence actually reduces bills and encourages investment.

      Can you imagine any government wanting to take responsibility for pushing up water bills? Ofwat does because companies have to invest in order to maintain and find new sources of water.

      • Acorn
        Posted March 31, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        I take your point Nick with a few buts, but you raise an interesting point. Take RWE Group, leveraged at 3.5 ebitda, with cost of capital at 9%, after spending €28 billion on new kit with design lives of forty to sixty years. It’s biggest problem is not knowing what politicians will mandate next.

        In the RWE Accounts there is a Q&A with the CEO on page 14, politicians should read it. http://www.rwe.com/web/cms/mediablob/en/1838516/data/105818/11/rwe/investor-relations/RWE-Annual-Report-2012.pdf .

        The CEGB never had a problem with the cost of finance, the Treasury did. But the downside was everything was built with gold plated belts and braces. Imagine the mess we would be in now if the CEGB had been privatised in 1957 when it was formed.

        As JR might say, I refer members to my entry in the register of interests and add this quote from an insider. “Frankly the only difference between the 24/7 very heavily regulated industry we have now, and the old CEGB, is the cost of capital and no long term technology plan.”

  16. Martin
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Richard North over at EU Referendum has in the past written extensively about the reasons why it is impossible to develop new reservoir capacity for the South of England. I’m sure he would be happy to pass on the links to his articles if you ask him nicely.

    • forthurst
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      According to the EU. water is a scarce resource and we have to be trained to use less of it; one obvious antidote to scarcity would be to stop importing more water service users. This is never however on the EU’s agenda, so once again as with climate ‘disruption’ one comes inescapabably to the conclusion that that the real objective is to turn us into a third world country as quickly as possible since as with energy, water is often used copiously by those industries that the EU is deliberately driving towards the Orient by pricing them out of this country.

      Just because greenies believe a load of tosh, it does not mean that those vectors of destruction that groom those simple souls believe other than that they have unleashed an effective force to undermine us in order to promote their evil elitist globalist agenda, much like at another time they unleashed communism quite successfully (except in parts of Western Europe).

  17. behindthefrogs
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    The Abingdon Reservoir Project has already been at least ten years in the planning. The Environment Agency spent a large amount of money on the project at least ten years ago.
    We need a change to the planning rules that speed up large projects but also ensure that the public have a proper chance to vote on all projects. It is noticeable with the huge housing developments proposed around Wokingham that the public have not had a real chance to object to as distinct from comment on the actual plans. The original out line plans contain little detail and only ask for comments and the next stage concerns itself with the actual small details. The public has no chance to object to the detail in context.

  18. Normandee
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    The planning system needs to be thoroughly examined, I am afraid that in my cynical view of modern life I now assume that when something like planning extensions happen someone must be gaining from it. So strip out the waste and the lawyers fees and reduce drastically the process, also instill also an attitude of preparedness. Populations are growing (even faster thanks to labour) we must get ready for it, and nobody is exempt.

  19. uanime5
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    It’s a pity that the Government didn’t build more reservoirs on flood plains. I can never understand why people want to build houses and even a park and ride on them.

    Regarding planning I’m guessing this takes such a long time because surveys need to be conducted to calculate what this project will entail, construction contracts need to be tendered to find out how much this project will cost, analyses need to be conducted regarding what impact this project will have, various legal permits that need to be obtained, and those affected need to be negotiated with. So while the Government may be able to speed up some parts of this process they won’t be able to speed up all of it.

    Also Hunt has changed the new NHS constitution so it won’t make it mandatory for NHS staff to put patient welfare before themselves. I guess this means that no one will be punished if more patients are neglected.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9962200/Hunt-drops-clause-that-puts-NHS-patients-first.html

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

      The bureaucrats, the medical professions, the politicians and even the drug companies will all do all they can to ensure that patients have as little power and control, as is possible over the dis-functional NHS. Just as currently virtually non. Queue up, wait and take what, if anything, you are eventually given – they already have all your taxes, so tough.

    • behindthefrogs
      Posted March 31, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      It is not possible in general to build reservoirs of any reasonable size on a flood plain. By definition a flood plain is at river level usually in the lower reaches of a river. Reservoirs are created by damming valleys and then filling or letting them fill with water. The requirement is for land contours that are just the opposite of a flood plain.

      • Mark
        Posted March 31, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps you should look at the reservoirs near Heathrow, at Wraysbury and Staines. They are not enclosed by natural land contours, but by man made embankments. They take advantage of the flat river plain of the Thames and local tributaries.

  20. Martyn G
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    It is not just water – add the other utilities to the mixture, gas, electricity, roads plus hospitals, schools, emergency services and we see that all are under huge pressure and in some cases approaching meltdown (e.g. lights going off or rationing of electricity), almost solely because of over-population – southern England in particular.
    And are there any signs that governments past and present has done anything about this obvious fact, other than make it worse by opening the doors to the rest of the world to immigrate to the UK? No, and here we are, faced with another substantial bout of immigration from Bulgaria and Romania and the government, thanks to the EU, simply cannot stop or slow it from happening. Other EU nations do, but not our lot – after all, it would not be sporting old boy and we don’t want to appear too nationalistic, do we?
    Compared to the performance and glacial pace of our present government, Nero fiddling whilst Rome burned appears to have been highly proactive.

  21. behindthe frogs
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    One of the main reason for the time that things like planning applications take so long is the time it takes inside councils, state departments etc. to process any document. Having worked in both private companies and government agencies I note that there is one simple major difference that needs changing.

    If I issue a document for comment in a private company, I send it to those people from whom I want or need comments. There will be a final reply by date but everyone will reply well ahead of that date, often by return.

    In the same circumstances in a government agency I have to send the document to everyone who might be interested. Replies will never be received before the reply by date and most people circulated will have to be chased after the date to confirm that they don’t want to reply. In my early days in one agency where I worked I was severely criticised by my boss for reply to a request for comments way ahead of the reply by date.

    The impact is that everything takes about five times as long in a government agency or council planning department.

  22. Terry
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Red tape is a burden to all progress. Not just Red Tape but the detailed attention made to the numerous protests. How long did it take the Newbury Bypass to be finished? I gather, at the time, the majority of local residents were all in favour of it.

    However, their opinion did not count for very much, as it was held up for years by pathetic arguments like rare worms and special snails and newts living in its path. These daft objections were fully aided and abetted by scruffy professional protesters living off of benefits and free hand outs by subversive organisations, no doubt.

    Is there any other country in the world that has such a chronically obstructive and tiresome planning process? Should that not tell us we are doing something drastically wrong? You are so right. Compulsory purchases at a premium is the only efficient way to go. This country has become too liberal for its own good.

    On the other hand, Greenbelt MUST be protected!!

  23. Bert Young
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post today . I live in South Oxfordshire and , unfortunately , have to buy my water from Thames Water ( German owned ? ). The rate charged by TW is , I believe , the highest in the country ; when they were challenged by a group of complainers , their response was the high cost of maintaining and improving the London sewage system . Londoners should pay for these improvements since they are the only direct beneficiaries ; other TW consumers should not be expected to cough up . It is quite ridiculous that the extra housing required and demanded by the Government in this area has ignored the problem of the water supply – the Abingdon reservoir project delay a typical example . Water supply should be a national responsibility and not broken down into the management hands of so many different water companies . Our local Lock-keeper tells me laughingly that even the Thames has different standards of speed controls – some measured in mph , some in kph depending where you are with your boat !!! – how stupid .

  24. Leslie Singleton
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    I find it odd, John, that you only mention large reservoirs–this verges on being statist and unusual for you. There are many people and industries that use a lot of water who could well do with digging and owning and using their own dinkier reservoirs on their own land. Farmers who need water for irrigation (especially in long hot summers when “public” water is scarce), many of whom, given their head will drain a little river dry as soon as look at you, whereas that little river becomes a ranging torrent all the way to the sea in Winter, with its water wasted. There are at least three such farm reservoirs within walking distance of me and of course they work a treat–how could they not? Not all that expensive to dig out (with a sideline in fishing?) I should have thought, and arguable worthy of subsidy.

    • behindthefrogs
      Posted March 31, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      To extract water from a river or stream anyone including farmers needs a licence. That licence strictly controls the amount of water that can be extracted nad usually imposes special conditions in times of drought. They will be prosecuted if they have any significant effect on the flow of a stream.

      There are similar controls on discharges into streams and what many people think are private reservoirs on farms are often settling tanks to prevent or ensure the quality of any discharge particularly of run off from farmyards.

      • Leslie Singleton
        Posted March 31, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        Frogs–I assure you what I am talking about are not “tanks”, they are biggish reservoirs which as I hinted have boats on them fly-fishing for stocked trout. I am not sure what you are saying exactly but to be clear what I am talking about couldn’t be simpler and consists of filling the reservoirs in the Winter and when the rivers are in flood. I cannot see how anyone could object to that, rather it would be win-win all round.

  25. Alte Fritz
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    It can’t be anything to do with the mega fees various professionals make through the planning process? No, surely not.

    We can waste years and fortunes of money, then people who have bona fide claims will have to struggle for market value compensation. Something is wrong.

  26. Jon
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I read it was a 50,000 page document for the planning permission for the sewer. Who will even read. I believe the Levison report was a lenghy 2000 pages.

    Though you do realise the same can be said of HS2. Adequate compensation upfront and build something for the grandchildren to prosper from rather than just debt being passed on.

  27. wab
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    “Surely it is better to pay out at a premium to affected property owners, instead of spending a fortune on fighting them through various rounds of a planning battle only one side can win.”

    Mr. Heseltine suggested just this many, many years ago, when he was in government. (I’m not sure he ever mentioned it in Cabinet, but he certainly mentioned it in interviews.) Needless to say it never happened, and will not happen now, because the Treasury will never allow it to happen.

    The flip side is that people who benefit from planning permissions rarely pay for the increased wealth that society has put in their hands for free, except for the big players who get the planning permission who end up paying some semi-random amount in Section 106 money.

    There will be some people who will benefit from the construction of HS2, because their house will go up in value because it is near (but not too near) some HS2 station. But there is no capital gains tax on primary residences, so that increase in value is completely pocketed by the householder, although they have literally done nothing to deserve this money. And that is then one of the reasons the government cannot afford to adequately compensate people who suffer from planning permission.

    If someone (e.g. your neighbour) applies for planning permission then the one thing you cannot use as an argument against it is that it will affect the value of your house. So government has built into the planning system that you might have to in effect write a cheque for tens of thousands of pounds to some person who will (obviously) directly benefit from planning permission, and there is nothing you can do about it, except argue one of the other reasons. (And in my town, people will always just scream “traffic” to try and stop anything they do not like.) Large infrastructure projects are just the same thing at a much bigger scale.

    As others have noted, even if affected home owners are properly compensated, that will not be the end of the story, because there are always plenty of special interest pressure groups (e.g. English Heritage, Friends of the Earth, etc.) to stop just about any large infrastructure project in its tracks.

    Have you ever seen the long list of special interest pressure groups that must be consulted for any mildly significant planning application (so even a couple dozen houses)?

    Yes, the UK spends far too much on lawyers and consultants during the planning process, money which would be far better spent on architects and engineers and other people actually involved in the design process.

    Yes, the UK planning process is pretty broken. Not that the government “reforms” will make it much better, since they seem to have been drawn up in extreme haste, on the back of a fag packet.

  28. Dennis
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    Again dealing with symptoms – the cause (of most problems) is overpopulation – can’t be fixed any time soon but where’s the policy/thinking? Even D. Attenborough with his same view and clout has not proposed anything and Mr Redwood has never, as far as I know, ever mentioned it. Perhaps he has no parking, water, pollution, energy or housing etc., etc.problems or just thinks we should have more and more and more of everything and there could not possibly be any difficulties in obtaining bags of infinite energy and resources to feed this never ending consumption.

    Reply We have often discussed controlling inward migration on this site, and I have also published Ministerial replies on the topic.

  29. John Byrne
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Caroline Spelman, as minister in her former post, stated last year (around the time of the drought) that dry summers “could be the norm” and emphasised that areas (especially in south east England) could become very short of water.

    Only a month or so later she turned down one application for a new reservoir in the south east and poured cold water (!) on the Abingdon proposal that you mention, saying that there was no need for increased reservoir capacity in the south east.

    The intention seems to be to support the EU’s (and Prince Charles’) mantra that water is a scarce resource (because of global warming) and that it should therefore be rationed by price. My water (not including sewage charge) bill has increased by over 70% in the last 3 years.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Actually the EU recommend preventing water being wasted than building new reservoirs. For example between 2007-2008 3.3bn litres of water was lost every day from pipes across Britain. So fixing these pipes would be far more effective than building new reservoirs.

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/jul/31/billions-litres-water-leaks-daily

      • Edward2
        Posted March 31, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        If you think about it Uni, the water is lost to the system but not lost for ever as the water makes its way back into the ground and thence into streams and rivers again.
        Curing leaks is a task which is never ending and is happening at a rapidly increasing rate.
        Millions of miles of pipes. The ground moves.

        • John Byrne
          Posted April 1, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

          The great mass of the water not harvested goes directly into the seas surrounding this island of Great Britain – via the rivers.
          This is s0 even when the charge in the rocks is very low, the recharging of the rocks being a fairly slow process.

      • John Byrne
        Posted March 31, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

        Fixing leaks can clearly be worth while – and is being done.
        However the fact remains that in the UK water is ALWAYS very plentiful. Only a tiny (much less than one hundredth of annual rainfall) fraction of available water is harvested.
        Despite the increase in population – much of it concentrated in the south east – very little has been done to pay heed to the blindingly obvious need for greater storage.

        • John Byrne
          Posted March 31, 2013 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

          PS to the above: ISTM that the apparatchiks are determined to make water expensive (as part of their effort to “fight global warming” – rather like the fuel tax – which was also a green measure).

          This would appeal to governments – they could (further) tax the use of water as a “save the planet” measure. And this would fool many people.

  30. Pleb
    Posted March 31, 2013 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    We have elections on the 2nd of May. Im hoping that UKIP gain massivly. Cons drop, Libs drop and both of them start to look running scared.

  31. David Langley
    Posted March 31, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Yes we live on a very small and overcrowded island, the resources are being over utilised and we need yet again a government that has to either thin out the population (Totally adverse of course to that) or get moving, on increasing the resources required. Our model of government is inadequate to all the challenges we face at present. Weary debates of no significance backed up by long periods of inactivity. Committees ponderously considering all the minutiae and deciding to kick it all into long grass. Much MPs absences to the constituencies to reinforce the job prospects while the problems fester. A benevolent dictatorship is beginning to sound a better model, in the interim lets get UKIP on board with good policies and determination.

  32. REPay
    Posted March 31, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    As Sir Humphrey used to say about long procedures – months or years of fruitful work for our colleagues!

  33. Trimperley
    Posted March 31, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    We lack space in this country and in London. The water company cannot just buy a strip of land to tunnel through, if it tried it would take years to piece together. Whenever more than two parties and their lawyers are involved in a deal transactions always take longer and add more time for each extra party. People don’t like change and perceive such projects as being a threat to their standard of living. There are mechanisms in place that they can use to cause delay and cause expense and the proponent may get fed up and go away. Then there is all the red tape and bureaucracy. it took birmingham City Council 10 years to build the dams in the Elan Valley, maybe this type of big project just takes that long?

  34. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted April 2, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    There is a problem with tunnels in London. Our knowledge of existing underground services and basements is not complete. Often, the management of major projects will obtain the services of a local person with local knowledge that is not (or not fully) documented. There are some horror stories when this is not possible. When the Victoria tube line was being built, they did the usual thing of sending in a boring machine to do the ‘soft’ drilling, lining the tunnel with concrete sections and pressure grouting behind the concrete. One bespoke tailor stored his cloth in the basement and lost the lot when his basement was filled with cement grout.

    The French approach works well on other construction projects such as roads. They pay compensation at 20% to 30% above the market rate, so there are few protests. The French reckon that this is cheaper than lawyers, public enquiries and delays. They might be right; it would certainly be a good idea to do a post mortem on a few UK major road projects, to compare actual costs (including legal and civil servant cots) with what the costs would have been under the French system.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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