Guest blog with Paul Hickey

Here, we talk to Paul Hickey, Managing Director about the role of the Regulators’ Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development (RAPID). He also covers the importance of collaboration between the water companies, in order to develop the necessary infrastructure that can help to secure the sector’s long-term water supply.

Firstly, can you tell us about RAPID and why it was set up?

A number of studies have been carried out over recent years, analysing the UK’s long-term water need. For example, the National Infrastructure Commission Report in 2018 and more recently, the National Framework for Water Resources (NFWR) published by the Environment Agency last year. 

These studies all came to the same conclusion: that when you take into account future pressures such as population growth and climate change, new and resilient water systems must be developed to avoid future issues with public water supply and damage to the environment. In addition to this, it is clear that we should be more efficient in how we use water than we are currently. 

As a result of these reports, there are now five regional groups working to develop regional strategies to ensure water resilience. RAPID was set up to oversee the investment program that will appraise the plans from these companies. 

With need to deliver these regional strategies in the next price view period, RAPID is helping to ensure this occurs in a timely manner and we aim to remove barriers that might restrict the development of that infrastructure.

It is important to say that RAPID is also an industry first. The three regulators – Ofwat, the Environmental Agency and the Drinking Water Inspectorate – have never formed a unit in this way before so it’s an exciting new move for the water sector.


What was your background prior to becoming Managing Director of RAPID?

Before joining RAPID at the start of 2020, I had worked for the Environment Agency for 10 years at first as its Head of Water Quality and then as its Head of Water Resources for England. Prior to that, I had worked for Anglian Water in a variety of regulatory and asset management roles for almost 20 years.


What do you feel are the most pressing water security concerns facing the water sector and how do you expect these to change in the coming years?

One of the studies I mentioned earlier, the National Water Resources Framework, looks in extensive detail at the long-term needs of the UK across the five regional planning groups. Critically, it not only looks at the public water supply but also the needs of other sectors like agriculture and power as well. While all regions are facing water security issues and potential deficits in the medium to long-term, it is most pressing in the East and South East regions due to the population density.

When looking to the future, issues such as growing populations and climate change will exacerbate these water security problems. With climate change, there will be increased potential for unpredictable shocks to the existing infrastructure, whether in the form of storms or hot weather. Hot weather, for example, can cause water quality problems that affect water treatment processes for public water supply. Therefore, there are not only concerns in terms of water quantity, but also future issues for water quality as well.


How can a collaborative approach between water companies be mutually beneficial for the water security of those involved?

There is a statutory process for looking at water resources where companies are required to produce five-year water resource management plans. In these plans, companies consider long term needs and necessary interventions within their geography. Furthermore, the focus has primarily been on public water supply problems rather than looking at society’s wider needs.

More recently, we have seen an incredible amount of collaboration between companies to support the five regions and by also engaging with other sectors. A piece of work by Oxford University as part of the National Framework indicated the need for increased connectivity in our water systems. A critical part of this is the ability to perform long distance transfers. If we have a severe drought, it is likely to affect more than one region or company. Therefore, we will need to move water to where it is needed. This illustrates the need for such collaboration and for companies to devise schemes that operate across regions.


Can you tell us about RAPID’s gated process and what you hope to achieve through the scheme?

Ofwat has allowed £460m in business plans to appraise 17 strategic schemes including new reservoirs, transfers, desalination and effluent reuse.

The gate process sets review points to ensure the appraisal work happens to a sufficient quality and in a timely manner. It will also be used to ensure that the money is being spent appropriately to protect customer interests. 


Having completed accelerated Gate 1, have you seen much progress from the water companies involved so far?

I believe that companies should be applauded for how they have worked together. The existing schemes are progressing positively and new ones are coming forward which is great evidence of new thinking and innovation.


Has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted water companies’ commitments to PR19?

From a RAPID perspective, it's been great to see companies able to move the appraisal work forward whilst operating remotely. So, whilst some activities like field surveys have suffered, generally the programme has continued moving ahead in both a timely and thorough manner.

An excellent example of innovation is Portsmouth Water and its planning application for the new Havant Thicket reservoir. The application process was carried out entirely online using a variety of innovative techniques and this allowed it to receive a greater reach in terms of demographics and level of engagement when compared with traditional planning methods.


What more can water companies and the wider water sector do to help develop the necessary infrastructure and secure its long-term water supply?

A particular focus is on the regulatory and commercial models to enable strategic infrastructure that will serve multiple companies and potentially multiple sectors.  

For example, the Severn Thames Transfer scheme that will move water from North Wales down the River Severn before being transferred to the River Thames to serve customers within that region. Several companies are involved either donating or receiving water from the scheme. Together we need to devise a framework that fairly shares cost and risk during both construction and operation.


To find out more about RAPID and its role in developing new water infrastructure, click here.


Paul Hickey

About the Author

Paul Hickey

Paul Hickey is the Managing Director of RAPID (Regulators Alliance Progressing Infrastructure Development). Before joining RAPID, Paul was Deputy Director at the Environment Agency with oversight of Water Resources for England. Paul is also a Fellow of the Institute of Water, serving on its Board, Environment Committee and South West Area Committee.