Page last updated at 19:42 GMT, Thursday, 9 February 2006

Water meters 'across South East'

Water running from a tap
New homes would all be fitted with water-saving devices

Householders across the South East could find themselves with compulsory water meters if a Kent company gets permission to introduce them.

Environment minister Elliot Morley said that other water companies were looking "very closely" at the application by Folkestone and Dover Water.

If the government gives permission, the company will be the first in England and Wales to make meters compulsory.

Mr Morley was visiting a new house in Essex which has water-saving fittings.

The house, in Heybridge, has low volume flow showers, spray taps and low capacity baths.

'Considered on merits'

Essex and Suffolk Water said tests showed that houses such as this used 13% less water per person.

Environment secretary Margaret Beckett will decide whether Folkestone and Dover will be able to impose compulsory meters.

Mr Morley said the government had no plans to make meters compulsory nationally, adding: "That would be hard to justify because in some parts of the country there is no water shortage."

The South East had below-average rainfall for 12 of the last 14 months, making 2005 the fourth driest year since 1921.

Kent and Sussex had less than a third of the average monthly rainfall in January and if dry conditions continue, South and South East England is facing the worst summer drought in 30 years.

Hosepipe bans are already in force across the region.

Bewl Water
Bewl Water reservoir is two-thirds empty as a result of drought

But Mr Morley said plans government plans for hundreds of thousands of new properties would still go ahead.

The South East England Regional Assembly (SEERA) has approved in principle 578,000 new homes in Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Berks, Bucks, Hants, Oxfordshire and the Thames Gateway by 2026.

The minister said the new homes would be fitted with meters and as many water-saving devices as possible.

He said he had a meter and was convinced more water would be saved if they were fitted in all homes and businesses.

"What we don't know is whether, because of climate change, we are seeing some long-term changes to the weather," said Mr Morley.

"We have to make plans for that and find ways to conserve water."

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