Gummer backs spread of meters to cut water use

Minister ignores demands that companies should face targets for ending leaks
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Political Correspondent

The use of water meters should be extended as a matter of urgency, John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, will say today when he outlines the Government's response to a three-year consultation on water conservation.

People in newly-built homes and new conversions of older properties could face new regulations requiring lower-flush lavatories under proposals canvassed in the report, Water Conservation: Government Action. Proposals for a maximum volume of water used by showerheads, dishwashers and washing machines will also be considered in a review of water by-laws.

But demands for the Government to force the 10 privatised water companies to save water by imposing mandatory targets to reduce leaks have been rejected, a move likely to renew criticism that consumers are to be asked to bear the brunt of the conservation burden.

The report will say the companies are best able to decide how quickly they can reduce leaks without spending more on repairs than is warranted by the amount of water saved. But they will be expected to set targets themselves, which will then be policed by Ofwat, the industry regulator, and the National Rivers Authority. But Mr Gummer is expected to make clear that the power to impose legal targets would be kept in reserve.

Water metering is also unpopular with consumers, who fear higher charges. Opponents are also likely to argue that the several billion pounds it will cost to install meters will be passed on to consumers. But the report will urge the industry to "extend the use of meters as far and as quickly as possible", saying it would give consumers a financial incentive to economise.

The report comes amid accusations from Ofwat and Labour that companies with water shortages are to blame for not better managing their resources and tackling leaks. More than 800 million gallons is lost from pipes each day.

The industry has estimated that converting 28,000 lavatories to low flush could save a million litres of water a day. But such installations would be confined to new properties and replacements in some existing properties. Showers would not be mandatory in new homes, but the report says: "The Government will consider as part of its review of water by- laws whether to prescribe a maximum rate of flow from showerheads."