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Futureproofing the UK water sector

Atkins recently published Future Proofing the UK Water Sector, a report on four possible future scenarios examining how global drivers such as climate change and population growth could affect the UK water sector over the next 40 years.

For Atkins, futureproofing is an integrated approach. It focuses on utilising and developing the capabilities of organisations to respond to the drivers of change and risks in order to position themselves for long-term success and maximise social, environmental and economic benefits.

It is about taking steps now to be resilient to whatever the future may hold.

So we decided to use the scenarios in the report to dive deeper into the specific water issues facing our country’s capital. Each place is unique and solutions need tailoring not only to meet the engineering challenges but also the local economic, social and political environment.

Discussion on water issues

Atkins, in partnership with World Cities Network, hosted a roundtable in the City on 23 October with senior representatives from government, insurers, the private sector, developers, regulators and the water industry to discuss the future of water for London.

The focus was on what action those around the table could take to ensure London remains a competitive global city. The event was held under the Chatham House rule.

“There is lots of debate about energy security, High Speed 2 and airport expansion – yet the economic and business case for water infrastructure is poorly understood”

It was notable that everyone understood the links between new development, population growth, economic activity and security of water services and flood protection.

However, there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to policy-making and the media does not seem to engage deeply.

There is lots of public debate about energy security, High Speed 2 and airport expansion – and yet the economic and business case for water infrastructure, vital for all life and business, is poorly understood.

But we also have to think about London’s place as a vibrant and successful city and the investment needed to maintain its broad appeal, especially as its population is expected to swell to 10.3m by 2035.

So timely decisions are critical, especially when you consider it can take 20 to 25 years before a new reservoir is operational.

Co-operation needed to meet challenges

With no significant water resource development in the city since 1976, we now have a range of issues to resolve.

Water shortages, overloaded sewage systems, urban drainage, renovating the 100-year-old water infrastructure, leakage reduction, finding innovative ways to source drinking water: all this, and where the investment will come from, needs addressing.

“These complex issues require the full co-operation and combined intelligence of planners, developers, business, political leaders and consumers to solve”

These complex issues require the full co-operation and combined intelligence of planners, developers, business, political leaders and consumers to solve. Let’s hope London doesn’t have its own Hurricane Sandy before the true scale of the problem is faced down.  

This report and roundtable are only the first steps.

We want to share our thinking with our clients and supply chain so we can strengthen and develop sustainable responses to the diverse, conflicting and interrelated pressures facing us all and help position the industry for long-term success.

For further information and to download a copy of the report go to

Mike Woolgar is director of water and environment at Atkins

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