Housing developers who commit to building new properties fitted with low water using devices, like showers and washing machines, will be offered discounts on the charges they pay to connect to the public water supply.
The scheme has been launched by UK utility Thames Water and will apply to new homes built in its region, which includes London. Developers will also be rewarded for installing systems that use rainwater or greywater - the relatively clean wastewater from appliances like baths, sinks and washing machines - for toilet flushing and watering plants.
The new scheme offers a three-stage discount on new connection charges to developers who go the extra mile. The more water efficiency options the developer signs up to, the more attractive the discount, with the most ambitious encouraged to achieve water neutrality by also retrofitting water-saving devices and fixing leaks in existing homes.
This will offset the water that will be used by the new properties meaning there will be no net increase in demand for water in the local area. By committing to water neutrality developers could potentially save up to £1,800 per property on their connection costs.
Thames Water’s head of demand management Andrew Tucker said: “To keep taps running for future generations and to protect sensitive rivers and chalk streams we need to reduce the amount of water we all use. This includes us fixing more leaks but also people using less water in their daily lives.
“Building homes that meet high water efficiency standards is an important step in the right direction and we hope our water efficiency scheme will inspire developers to put water higher up on their planning and design agendas.
“It aims to help developers introduce alternative water supply technologies and offset their new water demand by making the surrounding existing homes become more water efficient. We can work together to make new homes become water neutral and help reduce existing customers’ bill at the same time.”
"Building homes that meet high water efficiency standards is an important step - we hope our scheme will inspire developers to put water higher up on their planning and design agendas."
The scheme also offers discounts to developers who use innovative methods and sustainable drainage options to manage surface water run-off from their developments rather than have it enter the public sewer network. Reducing the volume of surface water from roads and roofs entering the sewers, frees up capacity and reduces the risk of spillages and storm overflows.
The south-east of England is classed as “seriously water stressed” by the Environment Agency and if no action is taken, shortfalls of up to 1.1 billion litres of water a day are forecast by 2040. A plan launched by all south-east based water companies in January 2022 outlined the need for consumers to use less water to help avoid the shortfalls.
The UK water industry is also lobbying for changes to government policy, water labelling and building regulations around the water performance of new homes to help residents use less.
The scheme has been praised by campaign group Waterwise. Managing director Nicci Russell said: “This is a fantastic scheme and I urge developers to take Thames Water up on it - these discounts mean new houses waste less water and cost less to build.
“We've known for a while how scarce water is right across the UK, and recent data shows the gap between how well we're doing on water efficiency, and how much we need to do, is getting bigger, not smaller.
"Knowing what we know about water scarcity and social justice we really should not be building homes that waste water. Bravo Thames Water - developers, it's on you now to step up.”