Downing Street backtracks over water claims

The Government was forced to backtrack yesterday on claims that it had won major concessions at the European Summit to relax tough environmental standards and slow the rise in water bills.

The Department of the Environment has admitted that nothing agreed at last week's summit would change the price of water or the rules governing its quality for several years to come.

As for any future changes, those will depend on lengthy and awkward negotiations between the European Commission, the European Parliament and ministers of member states when it is far from certain that Britain will get its way.

Sunday newspapers, briefed by Downing Street, said the Government had won important concessions that would benefit water company customers. Environmental organisations angrily condemned the Government for destroying hard-won 'green' gains.

But yesterday the environment directorate of the European Commission said the press misrepresented the situation. Paul Garrett, of the Water Services Association, which represents the big 10 companies of England and Wales, said: 'We're not sure there are any implications for the capital expenditure programme or for consumers in what happened at the summit.'

The president of the commission, Jacques Delors, presented a report to the summit proposing that 28 directives should be reformed and simplified, largely on the grounds of subsidiarity. Six of these are concerned with water quality, including the key drinking water and bathing water directives, responsible for multi-billion pound increases in the cost of providing fresh water and disposing of sewage along the coastline. They are the leading reason why water bills have risen much faster than inflation since privatisation.

Mr Delors proposed that these six should be changed into four framework directives, which give more scope to member governments when implementing the laws and monitoring whether companies are complying with them.

But the new urban wastewater directive, which will cost about pounds 11bn to implement in Britain, was not covered by the Delors proposals. This legislation enforces a further round of improvements in sewage treatment and will be the main reason why water bills are to continue rising sharply through the second half of the 1990s. Britain is now pleading for the implementation of this directive to be delayed from 2000 until 2005.

In any case, the reform of the bathing and drinking water directives will leave the key issues affecting human health - such as the concentration of pesticides allowable in drinking water - as matters for the European Union to decide as a whole.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy