Hosepipe promises mustn't be forgotten

The UK water industry has dragged its feet over the creation of an industry code of practice on the operation of water restrictions during shortages. Let's hope that the HTA's recent work with water conservation group Waterwise leads to a speedy resolution of this situation (news, p3).

While the extreme rainfall of 2007 and this summer's unusually wet weather may have washed away the water industry's memories of 2006, for horticulture businesses affected by that summer's hosepipe bans the threat to their livelihoods can't be quite so easily forgotten. One grower, writing to his MP in June 2006 asking for something to be done - in particular with regard to the inclusion of drip-irrigation systems in hosepipe legislation - spoke of a 20 per cent fall in sales as a direct consequence of the fact that 70 per cent of his customer base came from areas hit by hosepipe bans. He feared he would have to let some staff go. A month later, things had deteriorated drastically. Shipped sales, he wrote in a second letter to his MP, had "totally collapsed", staff fallen from 21 to 13 and the business was struggling to meet cashflow requirements. He said he hoped "we get the relief we need before it is too late".

After a strong campaign by the HTA, Defra pledged last October to bring in changes to hosepipe legislation, removing the anomalies that had hit gardeners unduly hard - and at the same time asked water companies to develop a code of practice. That the water industry has dragged its feet in delivering Defra's request shouldn't really be a surprise, given that the last thing it wants is to be tied to any restrictions of its own. Which makes it all the more bizarre that ministers should have handed the task to the water industry in the first place. When contacted by HW earlier this summer, a representative for the water industry assured us, after some initial confusion, that "serious research" was underway into a code of practice, to be complete by the end of the year.

What matters now is that the recommendations of the HTA and horticulture businesses directly impacted by hosepipe legislation are fully understood and acted upon in both the coming changes at legislative level and any accompanying rules governing implementation at local level.

 Kate Lowe, editor, email: kate.lowe@haymarket.com

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