Policy Option 03 - Water Efficiency

  • It is essential that Oxfordshire's communities, natural environment and businesses have access to the water they need, both now and in the future.
  • Water resources serving Oxfordshire and the wider South East region are under increasing pressure. This is due to a range of factors including climate change, population growth and limitations on the amount of water that can be taken from rivers and aquifers to avoid harm to the natural environment.
  • Thames Water's current Water Resource Management Plan forecasts that, without action, there will be a substantial shortfall between water supply and water demand within the next 25 years, significantly increasing the possibility of droughts.
  • The Oxfordshire authorities are working closely with Thames Water, the Environment Agency and other key stakeholders to understand water resource issues to 2050 and beyond. This engagement has fed into the production of the Water Cycle Study which will inform the Oxfordshire Plan. (A Phase 1 Scoping Study has been published as part of this consultation and a further, more detailed assessment will be undertaken prior to Regulation 19.) The evidence is clear that we need to make best possible use of Oxfordshire's water resources.
  • Water efficiency standards for new development are set out in the Building Regulations. Currently, for new homes, water consumption must not exceed 125 litres per person per day. (On average, a person in England uses 141 litres of water per day.) However, local planning authorities can, where there is a clear local need, require new homes to meet a higher optional requirement of 110 litres per person per day. All adopted local plans in Oxfordshire apply the optional requirement of 110 litres per person per day.
  • In 2019, the Government consulted on the possibility of introducing a more ambitious national water efficiency standard for residential development. However, the outcome of that consultation is not yet known.
  • The Building Regulations do not set specific water efficiency standards for non-residential development, but state that reasonable provision must be made to prevent undue water consumption.
  • There are examples of best practice that we can also look to. For example, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has developed a set of performance targets as part of their '2030 Climate Challenge’. ‘The performance targets align with the future legislative horizon and set out a challenging but achievable trajectory to realise the significant reductions necessary by 2030 in order to have a realistic prospect of achieving net zero carbon for the whole UK building stock by 2050’. This includes water use performance targets for different types of development (homes, offices and schools).
  • Measures to improve water efficiency include rainwater harvesting (the collection of rainwater directly from the surface it falls on) and grey water recycling (the collection and treatment of used water from baths, showers and bathroom taps). Once collected, treated and stored, this water can be used for non-potable purposes such as toilet flushing, garden watering and clothes washing using a washing machine. Evidence suggests that rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling schemes are more efficient, cost effective and have a lower carbon footprint when they operate at a 'community-scale'.
  • In planning to 2050, it is reasonable to assume that more ambitious water efficiency standards may become achievable as technology, design and construction methods evolve and become more affordable over time
  • Ambitious policies in the Oxfordshire Plan are consistent with the opportunity that the Oxfordshire Plan represents to secure the transformational change that the Plan is seeking to achieve.

Policy Options

  • One option is to not have a strategic policy on water efficiency in the Oxfordshire Plan and to instead leave it to local plans to set policies in relation to water efficiency. However, responding to county-wide and regional pressures on water resources is a strategic cross-boundary planning matter. It is therefore considered appropriate to include a county-wide strategic water efficiency policy in the Oxfordshire Plan.
  • If it were left to local plans to set policies on water efficiency, there is a risk that different approaches might be taken. This could result in less certainty and clarity for developers and communities. It may also make it more difficult to meet proposed ambitions around the delivery of transformational change, addressing the impacts of climate change and responding to county-wide and regional pressures on water resources.
  • For this policy option there is a preferred policy option and two alternatives that follow the text box.

Preferred Policy Option

  • The preferred approach is for the Oxfordshire Plan to set ambitious minimum water efficiency standards for new development in Oxfordshire. This would help to ensure a consistent approach across the county. It is considered appropriate given increasing pressures on water resources, both within Oxfordshire and across the wider region. Setting ambitious policies in the Oxfordshire Plan is consistent with the opportunity that the Oxfordshire Plan represents to deliver long-term transformational change and to address the impacts of climate change. Local plans could provide further detail as appropriate

Policy Option 03: Water Efficiency

The Oxfordshire Plan would seek to require the most ambitious minimum water efficiency standards possible for new development.

For residential development, this would include exploring the potential to go beyond the current optional requirement of 110 litres per person per day. (For example, RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge Targets of 75 litres per person per day.)

For non-residential development, this would include exploring the potential to set minimum water efficiency standards for some uses. (For example, RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge Targets or BREEAM standards.)
The Oxfordshire Plan would also require development at strategic growth locations to maximise water efficiency through the delivery of community-scale rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling schemes.

It would be important for the Oxfordshire Plan to provide flexibility to adapt to any new, more ambitious water efficiency standards that may be introduced or become achievable over the plan period. 

Alternative Policy Option 03-1

  • Require water neutrality in Oxfordshire. (This is when the total demand for water is the same after new development is built, as it was before. It means that any new demand for water would be offset by making existing homes and buildings in Oxfordshire more water efficient.)
  • This approach could be implemented alongside the preferred option of setting ambitious minimum water efficiency standards. It would represent transformational change and would further help to address the impacts of climate change. However, this is not a preferred option as at it is unclear how this approach could be delivered, funded and monitored.

Alternative Policy Option 03-2

  • Set less ambitious water efficiency standards in the Oxfordshire Plan. For example:

    i) align with the current optional requirement of 110 litres per person per day for new homes;

    ii) do not set water efficiency standards for non-residential development; and/or

    iii) encourage (rather than require) development at strategic growth locations to maximise water efficiency through the delivery of community-scale rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling schemes.
  • This is not a preferred policy option as it would not deliver transformational change. There are opportunities to do more to address the impacts of climate change and to respond to county-wide and regional pressures on water resources.

You can respond to the overall plan by clicking the orange button below or this specific policy but clicking the green button in the Supporting Information box. Please note that this will open in a new window and you may need to register if you haven't already.

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