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 David Hodcroft, Infrastructure Lead for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Integrated Water Management Business Change Manager. David is a chartered (MRTPI) town planning professional and systems thinker with 24 years’ experience in strategic planning, infrastructure, environment, and place making.

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 is connected by water but how we manage it is highly fragmented. It’s an overlooked and ignored issue brought to light on frequent occasions where there is too much water (flooding), too little (droughts) and too dirty (polluted waterways).

During periods of extremely dry weather (as experienced in 2021 and 2022), water supplies in Greater Manchester come under increasing pressure. In storms, and with the city-region sitting in a natural bowl, heavy rainfall can see water levels rise rapidly, causing flood risk. 

Precipitation is predicted to rise by 59 per cent by 2050 even if carbon reduction targets are met, with the North West projected to have the highest percentage increase in rainfall in the country. As rainwater enters the sewer network this can cause water pollution. 

To combat this, in September 2021 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the Environment Agency, and United Utilities, creating the first partnership looking to manage water differently across the city region. 

As previously reported to the GMCA integrated water management is a cross portfolio issue, cutting across duties, responsibilities, and agencies and we don’t view and approach the issue through a single coordinated and strategic lens. It is about place making and resilience as much as the environment. 

There was also a concern that whilst there is a significant emphasis and activity on net zero and carbon reductions that same level of energy is not being applied to climate adaptation and place resilience.

In May, the Combined Authority heard from Scrutiny Committee members how important and complex the issue is, water is essential for life, how we manage it has often been neglected and forgotten – the impact of a changing climate (an extreme weather) is here and now. Water quality is also a key issue.

Scrutiny Committee made 10 recommendations including “a proper governance framework” and a plan with leadership at the political and officer level and accountability in one place.

The Integrated Water Management Plan was approved by the GMCA in June 2023 and will see the Greater Manchester Combined Authority extend partnership working with United Utilities and the Environment Agency to transform the way water is managed across the city-region so it is better prepared for the changing climate.   

In June, the Integrated Water Management Plan was taken to the CA for approval. The CA members heard from the CEOs of the Environment Agency (EA) and United Utilities (UU). The CEO of EA highlighted the national leadership that Greater Manchester is providing in this space and UU informed the CA that an infrastructure plan is being developed by UU (2025-30) with a significant level of investment planned.

The vision is: “By working together, we will manage Greater Manchester’s water wherever it falls, to enhance the environment, support people and forge prosperous places”.

The Integrated Water Management Plan has been developed by this partnership, working with others across the city-region and it will help to:

  • Accelerate the implementation of natural flood management interventions in key locations identified in the Integrated Water Management Plan. This will help to reduce carbon emissions, improve our resilience to climate change and will benefit nature, conditions for people and the quality of towns and cities.  
  • Reduce the operation of storm overflows so we can prevent rainwater from entering and polluting the combined sewage system and improve water quality.
  • Creating new jobs, developing skills and apprenticeship roles that benefit residents in Greater Manchester .
  • Ensure new GMCA or TfGM developments are delivered in partnership with United Utilities so water management measures can be factored in. For example, road or cycle schemes can include solutions to address surface water runoff.

Over the next six months, the Integrated Management Team will be focusing on the following actions:

  1. Establishment of the Integrated Water Management Team, implementation of team culture and charter and sharing of resources across GMCA, EA and UU.
  2. Further development of the living integrated opportunity programme (projects and interventions within geographical locations and catchments).
  3. Identification and progression (from concept to business cases) of the first tranche of geographical clusters to demonstrate the impact and delivery of better outcomes.
  4. Confirmation of the skills and graduate/apprenticeship programmes across the CA, UU, and EA for integrated water management to commence in September 2024.
  5. Review of the existing GMCA governance structures to strengthen accountability, scrutiny and provide clarity of responsibility in accordance with the principles for good governance (attributes for integrated water management).
  6. Establishment of the partnership board in accordance with the governance framework (output 5 above).
  7. A communication and engagement plan outlining who will be engaged, when and how during 2023-24.

The partnership will look to work with the government, regulator Ofwat and other industry representatives to provide solutions that will deliver real change.

As readers may be aware, The government has committed to several reforms nationally through the  Environmental Improvement Plan (2023) and Plan for Water (2023) with Integrated Water Management reflected within the devolution deal agreed with government earlier this year which states that: “the government agrees that Greater Manchester will be a testbed to explore and develop options for how flood risk management, including other relevant adaptation activities, can best be addressed and accelerated at the local level. This could include:

  • Examining how adoption of an ecosystem services approach can deliver co-benefits for the economy and citizen health.
  • Sharing of best practice approaches and learning on integrated water management to inform government reforms to local flood risk management planning.
  • Piloting `revenue stacking’ and the blending of public, private, and philanthropic finance to fund projects at scale; or
  • Early testing of proposals from any government strategies on these issues in development.

Lessons learnt so far

  • Leadership – accountability, conflict resolution and change management are key themes. And you must take a systems approach to fully understand the problem (seeing the bigger picture), causes and responsibility for action. The Combined Authority is not a Lead Local Flood Authority but does have the power under section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 to take any steps which it considers likely to improve the “economic, social, or environmental well-being” of the Greater Manchester area.
  • Communication – When working in complex areas with different organizational cultures, guidance legislation and policy, it’s crucial that communication is clear. Often misunderstanding occurs through misinterpretation. Communication within a single organisation is a challenge amplified when working through 3 or 4 organizations. This is why a team charter was developed last spring to outline the values for how the Integrated Water Management Team would work and to build trust.
  • Delivery and implementation – Collaboration and partnerships are crucial, they do require a clear vision, outcomes and metrics supported by detailed action plans to deliver tangible outputs. Contractual arrangements and procurement processes will be required, results and accomplishments communicated to senior responsible officers and the Combined Authority enabled by the monitoring of outputs and reporting processes.

Call to action

Readers are encouraged to read the Integrated Water Management Plan and to enhance their water literacy training and awareness.

  • Do you know where your water comes from?
  • Do you know how much water you use every year?
  • Do you know if your house or place of work is at risk from flooding?
  • What are you doing to increase the permeability of your garden or drive way?
  • When developing policies, projects and programmes have you considered whether there are opportunities to enhance the water environment?

Find out more about Greater Manchester’s Integrated Water Management Plan here: Integrated Water Management Plan – Greater Manchester Combined Authority (

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