Hot, dry and growing: How one of the UK’s most economically significant regions is one of the most challenged to thrive

The East of England faces critical challenges over the next two decades, as temperatures hit record highs, rainfall decreases, and over 720,000 new residents move to the area, according to new research commissioned by Anglian Water.

These combined challenges pose a threat to the region that produces one-fifth of the country’s crops and a third of its vegetables, as well as being home to the largest commercial R&D centre in Europe.

The report, titled Thriving East, analyses socio-economic, climate and geographic factors across the country to identify how these forces combine to present unique challenges. Commissioned with Capital Economics, Thriving East shows that the challenges facing the Anglian Water region are the most severe in the country outside of London. Temperatures in the region will be hotter than the UK average, and projections from the Met Office showing record low rainfall, at 1.9mm per day, will be less than anywhere else in the UK.

The report highlights a fundamental link between water, climate change, the unique geography of the region and this threatens both economic and social prosperity. Crucially, it outlines how ambitious infrastructure investment can enable the region Anglian Water serves to get ahead of these challenges and thrive.

Water is critical for prosperity and demand is only going to rise. The region contains the four fastest growing cities of the UK in the last decade. Norfolk and Suffolk are emerging as key hydrogen power ‘hubs’ and the Humber region is home to the UK’s largest opportunity for industrial decarbonisation. 75% of land in the region is used for agriculture and it is known as the bread basket of England, with some of the most productive farms and food businesses in the country. All these opportunities create greater pressure on water supplies.

These findings come as The National Infrastructure Commission reports that UK infrastructure needs investment of £70 to £80 billion per year in the 2030s and £60 to £70 billion per year in the 2040s.

Peter Simpson, Chief Executive Officer of Anglian Water, said:

“Our purpose is to bring environmental and social prosperity to the region we serve. Our region relies on water to facilitate economic growth, tourism, and to feed a significant part of the UK population.

“Thriving East sets out the challenges the region is facing and the opportunities we have to address them. Climate change, population growth and water scarcity – are the biggest challenges we face and addressing them is fundamental to so much of what sets our region apart.  The solutions need to come from targeted long-term planning and collaboration.

“Our role is to facilitate growth and prosperity in the region through significant investment, with our most recent business plan for 2025-30 – our largest ever – outlining a proposed £9bn of essential investment in the region. This plan, created in consultation with regional stakeholders, is designed to address precisely the challenges Thriving East sets out.

“But to achieve this it will require close collaboration with local authorities, businesses, community groups and regulators to unlock opportunities for generations to come. We hope that this acts as a rallying cry to help bring together everyone who shares our ambition to capitalise on the many opportunities and in delivering a prosperous, thriving future for the region.”

The opportunities to supercharge the region are clear – from new homes to new green industries. However, substantial upgrades to water infrastructure will be needed to unlock the full potential of a region that is water scarce, vulnerable to climate change, has a fast-growing population and a nationally-important agricultural economy that relies on water to feed the nation.

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