In the run up to the Greater Manchester Green Summit, we’re previewing what to expect on the day and hearing from our partners.

In this blog we hear from Shelina Begum, Stakeholder Engagement Lead (GM) at United Utilities, one of our Green Summit sponsors for 2023.

Click here to register for a free place at the event to hear from them and others taking action for the environment in Greater Manchester.

Greater Manchester’s Green Summit returns for the sixth year and United Utilities is proud to continue its support of the annual event.

This year’s event again brings together policymakers, business leaders, environmental groups and sustainability experts who are determined to drive change and help the city region meet its ambitious goals for the environment.

At United Utilities, we share the same ambitions for a stronger, greener and healthier North West.

We care about our environment and want to do more to protect our natural surroundings and improve the quality of our rivers and lakes and the service we provide to our customers. 

One of the biggest challenges facing the water sector right now is the use of storm overflows. 

Storm overflows are an important part of the sewerage network and include combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and storm tank discharges. 

They act as a pressure relief valve when there is too much rainfall, allowing rainwater, mixed with sewage, to rise inside the sewer and eventually enter a separate pipe which flows into a river or the sea. Sewers operate this way to help prevent the flooding of streets, homes and businesses. 

These overflows might have been a core feature of the sewer network in the UK and around the world for centuries. But that doesn’t make them right. 

We need to stop these releases into our rivers and seas. At United Utilities, we get it and we are committed to making the changes we all want to see. We have already taken action and have delivered a 39% reduction in spills since 2020 – but we know that’s not enough.

Our ambitions are huge and we want to target a 60% reduction in spills between 2025 and 2030. We have a plan to spend over £3 billion across the North West and we have been working with regulators to bring forward over £1.5 billion of that investment so we can start the work now.

That means building new storage tanks and making changes to treatment works to increase their processing ability. 

It is the most aggressive and ambitious building programme the North West has ever seen – and we have already set to work.

With sewers typically no more than 15% full during dry conditions, its heavy rainfall that causes the overflows to activate. 

So we also need help from others – from developers, businesses and homes up and down our great region – to stop rainwater from entering the sewers in the first place or to slow it down. It is essential we work together to remove and recycle rainwater.

So how do we tackle this challenge together?

We have been working closely with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and the Environment Agency to establish a new partnership and a new way of working to ensure the best management of water resources throughout the Greater Manchester region.

Together, we have developed a UK-leading Integrated Water Management Plan (IWMP) to drive forward the environmental, development and infrastructure priorities across Greater Manchester.

With support from Mayor Andy Burnham, the IWMP was launched in June 2023 and will focus on all aspects of Greater Manchester’s water cycle, bringing together various strategic plans into an overall framework and ambition for the region. Working with our partners across the city region, the IWMP will help to:

  • accelerate the implementation of natural flood management interventions in key locations identified in the IWMP. This will help to reduce carbon emissions, improve resilience to climate change and will benefit nature, conditions for people and the quality of towns and cities;
  • reduce the operation of storm overflows to prevent rainwater from entering and polluting the combined sewage system and improve water quality;
  • create new jobs, develop skills and apprenticeship roles that benefit residents in Greater Manchester; and
  • ensure new GMCA or TfGM developments are delivered in partnership with the company, so water management measures can be factored in. For example, road or cycle schemes can include solutions to address surface water runoff.

We understand the scale of the challenge is huge and similar to the transition from electric cars to diesel cars. It will take time to reduce the frequency of overflow operation.

Greater Manchester is one of the fastest growing regions in the UK with huge ambitions across several sectors including health, tech, life sciences and the green economy. The region has seen unprecedented growth in recent years with large commercial and residential developments taking place across the county as more and more people make this region their home.

We want to play an integral part in this growth and tackle the environmental challenges head-on.

Through the IWMP, we have a major opportunity to tackle emerging and historical water and wider infrastructure and societal challenges in an integrated way. 

Through water and wider infrastructure investment, such as housing, transportation and power, we believe it is possible to achieve far greater integrated and connected delivery of multiple types of infrastructure. 

We are excited about our plans for Greater Manchester. This year’s Green Summit will provide us with a great opportunity to tell you more about what we are doing and how we plan to take action alongside our partners.

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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