Blair warns homeowners to cut water consumption

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British homes are using too much water, Tony Blair and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, have warned. As climate change hits the UK, people will either have to adjust their habits or face severe and expensive restrictions on how much water they consume.

The average British home uses 150 litres of water per person per day, while the Germans, Belgians and Dutch - with similar living standards and climate - manage on 130 litres each or less. Mr Blair and Mr Brown want Britons to bring their water consumption down to European levels, and they warn that the Government may resort to "metering, price structures and demand management programmes" to ensure it happens.

They want householders to think twice before they turn on the tap or flush the lavatory, as the combination of rising demand and decreasing rainfall will mean a summer drought every few years, particularly in the south, with its rapidly rising population.

Their comments were included in a Treasury document published yesterday, in which they set out the long-term political challenges. The document is seen as part of the handover of power by Mr Blair to his successor.

The document covers issues such as the UK's ageing population, technological change, the rise of economic competition from China and India, and global terrorism. The chapter on climate change warns that average summer temperatures could be 5Chigher in the south of England by 2080.

They add that, by the 2050s, the sort of summer heatwave like the one that caused 2,000 extra deaths during the summer of 2003 could become "commonplace", and that unless building designs are altered in London, people could suffer uncomfortable heat for almost a quarter of each working day in the summer. But on the plus side, the number dying of cold every year could drop from 80,000 to 60,000.

Mr Blair and Mr Brown singled out water use and supply as one of the most important pressures on the country's natural resources. Droughts that now occur once every 10 years are likely to happen every four or five years by the 2050s, and every two or three years by the 2080s.

The crisis will be worst in the South-east, where water companies are already barely able to meet demand. The number of households in England is expected to increase from 20.9m in 2003 to 24.8m by 2021, with most of the increase concentrated in the South-east. Yet figures released separately by the Department for the Environment yesterday show that Londoners contribute less to global warming, per head of population, than anyone else in the country. The North-east, which is one of the few regions with more water than it needs, emits 13.1 tons of carbon per head of population every year, compared with 7.1 tons in London. The gap is partly caused by industrial plants on Teesside, but Geordie householders are also responsible. The Teesdale district emits 4.2 tons per head, compared with 1.7 tons in the London borough of Camden.

The Treasury scornfully rejected a carbon tax discussed yesterday at the CBI conference by the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne. It said this would have no impact on the carbon totals emitted in Europe.