Hosepipe amendment pulled as water bill placed on fast track

An amendment to the Flood and Water Management Bill that would have enshrined an industry-agreed code of practice on hosepipe bans in the legislation has been withdrawn following parliamentary debate.

It is believed that a need to push through the bill before the general election and a focus on the flooding aspect of the legislation led to the withdrawal of the amendment.

The code of practice calls for a fair and proportionate response from water companies in times of drought — for example, by reducing restrictions to alternate days. It reached the committee stage of the bill's passage through parliament.

However, following discussions between its proposer — Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon and Radnorshire Roger Williams — and Defra minister Huw Irranca-Davies, the HTA-led amendment to the bill was withdrawn.

HTA director of business development Tim Briercliffe explained: "They want to get this bill through quickly and my view is they want to get rid of any opposition and rush it through."

During the committee stage of the bill's progress, which ended on 22 January, Irranca-Davies pledged to "keep under review how each water company exercises the powers" should the amendment be withdrawn.

But Majestic Trees managing director Steve McCurdy, whose business was badly affected by falling sales during the 2006 drought, said the lack of commitment from the Government to a code of practice would result in future problems.

"It is unbelievable," he lamented. "All the Government is doing is shuffling papers until there is a major emergency and then it will start dealing with it."

The code of practice was developed by the HTA, non-governmental organisation Waterwise and the Turfgrass Growers Association (TGA). Tim Mudge, chief executive of the TGA, told HW that previous droughts had led to "shirking of responsibility". He added that he was keen to see the legislation "help industry in times of crisis".

HTA adviser David Brown, who co-drafted the code of practice, said he was "hugely disappointed" at the withdrawal of the amendment. "It is so important because of the confusion that existed during the drought in 2006 and the damage that was done to businesses, including growers and garden centres," he explained.

"We are about bringing in a phased approach to restriction so people know that if drought conditions should appear they can still buy their plants with confidence."

The bill will go to its third reading stage in February before reaching the House of Lords, where it is hoped that the amendment could be re-introduced.

"The House of Lords is where the sector has strong cross-party support so we will look to raise the issue at that stage as well," explained Briercliffe.

"It is not the end of the road," he stressed. "We will keep up the pressure as the Bill goes to the House of Lords."


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