In the next of our Greater Manchester Green Summit 2022 preview blogs, we hear from Chris Matthews, Head of Sustainability at United Utilities.

United Utilities is one of our headline sponsors for this year’s Green Summit.

United Utilities has been an enthusiastic and proud supporter of Greater Manchester’s Green Summit for the past five years and we look forward to this year’s event with its focus on accelerating action.

As the region’s water and wastewater provider we are intrinsically linked to the environment and people of the North West. Our purpose is very clear – we don’t just supply great water, we want to make the North West greener, healthier and stronger.  

Major pressures on the environment

The region is facing major challenges to the state of the natural environment and these have implications for water and how it’s managed.

Already we are experiencing the impacts of climate change. There have been long periods of dry weather this summer putting pressure on agriculture, rivers and water-based recreation. The increased frequency of intense rainstorms can overload drainage systems, resulting in the flooding of homes and businesses and more frequent use of storm overflows which act as pressure relief valves. These resilience challenges are of course all in the context of the ongoing battle to achieve science-based reduction in carbon emissions.

As the region’s population increases, with accompanying housing development, the demand for water will increase. Coupled with a changing climate, we will all have to make decisions on how to use water wisely and plan resources carefully to reduce the amount of water taken from the environment. The increasing amount of impermeable areas associated with new developments means that rainwater flows much more quickly into sewers and drains, putting pressure on the capacity of these systems to remove water.

Given Manchester is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, it will be essential that investment in infrastructure capacity is at the heart of the six Growth Locations to reduce the stress on the natural environment.

Since the pandemic, more of us have come to appreciate our local environment with people wanting to swim, enjoy riverside walks and get back to nature. United Utilities has an important role to play in improving the nation’s rivers and waterways by upgrading our sewerage infrastructure. The nation’s environmental ambition embodied in the Environment Act and Government’s Storm Overflow Reduction Plan will significantly increase the scale of investment in Greater Manchester and wider region.

Over the last three decades we have played a pivotal role in improving the quality of water in the rivers, streams, lakes and coasts of the North West. We’ve invested significantly in the large and complex system that provides essential services to the people and businesses in the region. We work hard to maintain a high level of environmental performance and we’re pleased to have been awarded the top 4-star rating by the Environment Agency for five of the last seven years.    

Better Rivers: Better North West

Given these challenges, we need to build on the progress we’ve made and have set out how we will accelerate action through our Better Rivers: Better North West pledges. To kick start a river revival over the next three years, our four-point plan commits us to:

  • make sure the company’s operations progressively reduce impact to river health
  • be open and transparent about its performance and plans
  • make rivers beautiful, supporting others to improve and care for them and
  • create more opportunities for everyone to enjoy rivers and waterways

Our plans includes investment in wastewater systems, enhanced data monitoring and sharing, greater innovation and more use of nature-based solutions. Between 2020 and 2025, we’ve committed to reduce the number of spills from storm overflows by at least a third. This will be supported through a £230m investment programme at sites across the North West, leading to 184km of improved waterways (of which nearly 100km will be in Greater Manchester). All storm overflows will be monitored by 2023 and real time data on their operation made available to the general public.

Working together for a greener region

Better Rivers: Better North West is only part of the solution; we can’t do this on our own. River health is affected by many factors and we will play our part, helping others to get involved and work collaboratively. Ultimately, better rivers are better for everyone across the North West and action is needed across all stakeholders to achieve a better environment for everybody.

Investing in environmental improvements will come at a cost and there will be increasing pressure for bills to rise. Given the current cost of living crisis, in a region with acute levels of social and economic deprivation, there is a balance to be struck between what is required and what can be achieved over what timeframe. We need to tackle these real challenges together, taking the views of all stakeholders into account.

Enabling change requires a clear vision for water management in Greater Manchester with a strong governance model to drive integrated planning and interventions that benefit business, communities and nature. With the Combined Authority, we are already exploring ways to achieve through:

– water neutral developments – enabling reduced water use;

– increased climate resilience – through a greater understanding of water use in the home; and

– more space for water nature and social wellbeing – by incorporating green and blue infrastructure into existing development and communities.

The Green Summit comes at just the right time to catalyse action on the region’s environmental challenges and create the collaborations that will ensure we take action together. We look forward to exploring these opportunities on the day.

Chris Matthews, Head of Sustainability, United Utilities  

United Utilities is responsible for water and wastewater services in the North West of England. Our purpose is to provide great water and more for the North West.

We deliver 1.8 billion litres of water a day to more than 3 million homes and businesses in the North West, as well as treating all the wastewater which disappears around the U-bend.

Keeping the region flowing relies on a vast behind the scenes operation, involving hundreds of reservoirs, treatment works and pumping stations; thousands of kilometres of water pipes and sewers and a 5,000 strong workforce.

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