New plans to bring economic, environmental and social benefit across the Fens in UK first

New cross-sector taskforce will tackle climate resilience for local communities

An ambitious new multi-agency taskforce seeks to bring renewed prosperity to the Fens through a radical new approach to managing land and water resources. Future Fens Integrated Adaptation will deliver resilience to the impacts of climate change, unlock housing growth and job creation, allow for upgraded transport links, improve biodiversity and support new opportunities for tourism. The project is the first of its kind anywhere in the UK.

The initiative is a collaboration between Anglian Water, Water Resources East, the Environment Agency, and many regional partners. It will align multiple agencies and sectors to manage water resources holistically, unlocking a wealth of new opportunities for the area, which has historically been held back by its propensity to flood, given its position below sea level, and its poor transport connections.

By integrating flood management with securing water supply, water is treated as an asset to be valued rather than a problem to be got rid of.

More certainty in long term flood resilience along with a resilient water supply allow for social challenges to also be addressed, as investment can be made in things like better transport connectivity and much-needed housing in an area that currently suffers from significant underinvestment and deprivation. Protecting some of the UK’s best agricultural land by addressing future climate risks also allows for the introduction of higher value crops, creating jobs, training and employment opportunities.

Key elements to the strategy which are already being taken forward include:

  • New multi-sector, multi-beneficiary reservoirs could provide additional water supply resilience for water companies, farmers and the food industry, and improve the water environment;
  • Exploring the flood resilience measures needed to support growth areas in the Fens, enabling key local infrastructure projects such as a rail connection from Wisbech to Cambridge and the dualling of the A47 to move forward;
  • Enhancement of open water channels for nature and biodiversity, tourism and navigation, as well as further water storage and flood risk management benefits;
  • Unlocking the full potential of the grade 1 agricultural land across the Fens would add billions of pounds to the local economy and benefit local people in terms of skills, jobs and new opportunities.

Wednesday’s taskforce launch, chaired by Anglian Water CEO Peter Simpson, drew together over 80 different stakeholders from 47 different organisations representing national and local government, agriculture, business, academia, energy and environmental sectors, all with the shared goal of driving forward progress in the Fens.

The initiative has attracted cross-party support, with the launch addressed by the Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and MP for North East Cambridgeshire, who has contibuted long-standing support to the project. He was joined by the new Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Mayor, Dr Nik Johnson, as well as Environment Agency Chair Emma Howard Boyd. The Fens is the only specific region highlighted  in the Environment Agency’s national flood risk strategy, and this initiative will be the centrepiece of Water Resources East’s regional plan for water management in the East of England, as well as forming a central part of Anglian Water’s Water Resources Management Plan.

Peter Simpson, CEO for Anglian Water said:

“Businesses can and should make a positive difference to the communities they work within. This is why our purpose as a company goes far beyond the provision of safe, clean drinking water and water recycling services, to enhancing the environmental and social prosperity of the communities in our region. This is the ethos we embraced when we first began working in Wisbech in 2013.

“Since then, and with the help of other sectors and like-minded businesses, our ambition for this area has grown into something which we hope will be a global exemplar of how to take a place-based approach as we adapt to climate change. If we are to meet the tough challenges posed by growth, water scarcity, drought and flood and make a difference to the lives of local communities, then we need to think differently. My hope is that this approach will be something replicated across the UK and beyond.”

Dr Nik Johnson, Mayor of Greater Cambridgeshire said:

“Opening up renewed opportunities for the Fens is one of my central priorities. Effective water management has huge potential to unlock economic growth and job creation, alongside the clear environmental benefits in terms of biodiversity and creation of new green spaces for communities to enjoy. I welcome the opportunity to come together through this taskforce to collaborate on a better, more resilient future for our Fenland communities.”

Dr Robin Price, Managing Director, Water Resources East, said:

The Future Fens strategy sits right at the heart of the long-term integrated cross-sector water management plan which Water Resources East and its over 150 members are co-creating for Eastern England.  By working across the Fens through this new taskforce to join up the worlds of water scarcity, flood risk management and water quality improvement at landscape scale, we will go a long way to ensuring that the whole region can meet its environmental and economic ambitions in the face of an increasingly unpredictable climate.

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said:

“Future Fens will be a pioneer in how to adapt to the impacts of climate change across a complex low-lying landscape. It could be a global case study of how better water management not only mitigates risk, but boosts agricultural productivity, increases natural capital, supports carbon sequestration and creates jobs.”

Next steps for the initiative include a detailed scoping phase to establish funding opportunities and synergies between agencies. It is hoped that Future Fens will be showcased as a global exemplar of integrated adaptation to climate change at COP26 in Glasgow in November.

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