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NWG have set up a new Bluespaces scheme for delivering water environment improvements in our regions.


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This scheme will see us investing around £1m in above and beyond bluespaces improvements, delivered in partnership for the benefit of our customers, from 2020-25. 


We are currently delivering an approved plan of projects for Year 2, and developing plans for Year 3, 2022-23, Year 4, 2023-24 and Year 5, 2024-25. We are also developing our ambition to 2040.


Our areas of interest are shown on the map below.


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An Introduction to the Bluespaces Scheme

Northumbrian Water Group (NWG) incorporates Northumbrian Water (NW) and Essex & Suffolk Water (ESW). Our customers have asked us to work in partnership to improve the water environment, focusing on a wide range of improvements in areas where they can access and enjoy water and its wildlife, and the associated health and wellbeing benefits. A new scheme has been developed to be delivered within NWG’s 2020-25 plan, to allow us to address this challenge and do more to protect and improve the water environment in our regions.


The Water Environment Team has identified over 3,800 km of bluespaces (accessible water environment) linked to streams and rivers, lakes and reservoirs, wetlands, coasts and beaches in the North East, and over 3,700 km of bluespaces in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, including canals, which are open to the public to enjoy via public rights of way or other public access.


NWG’s new scheme allows us to develop and deliver projects with our partners to improve a number of these areas, including at popular tourist locations and sites of value to local communities. The scheme focuses on packages of improvements across access and recreational facilities, wildlife and biodiversity, and water quality.


For examples of the type of improvements that could be delivered through bluespaces projects, see here.

What are Bluespaces?

Bluespaces are the environments covering or close to all surface water within our regions. This includes streams, rivers, ditches, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, wetlands, fens, bogs, marshes, reedbeds, canals, coasts and beaches.


NWG defines bluespaces as the area around water that is freely accessible to the public via road, footpath, bridleway or other public right of way, or accessible via a free point of access, including a country park, beach or other public area. 


At least one of the following factors should apply to class public access close to water as accessible water environment: 

  1. Immediate vicinity of water (within 100m) 
  2. Visibility of water and water associated wildlife 
  3. Sound of water and water associated wildlife  
  4. Touch and interaction opportunities with water 


NWG has carried out high level analysis to map bluespaces in our regions. This dataset has been made available to partners via the Bluespaces mapping portals. We would like to work with partners to understand where the water environment is accessible and which areas of our regions are eligible for scheme activity.

Project Criteria

The bluespaces scheme applies a strategic approach to working in partnership to improve the water environment in our regions. The aim is to support, drive and deliver cost-effective projects with the greatest benefits for customers and the environment. Candidate Projects will be prioritised on benefits, costs and deliverability, with strategic support and the locations of projects and involvement of partners also considered within the 5-year programme.


In order to be eligible for the scheme, projects must impact on or be in the vicinity of bluespaces. 


Projects must also include interventions which cover 2 out of 3 of the core aspects of bluespaces improvements – Access, facilities & recreation, wildlife & biodiversity, and water quality (A, B and C in Table 1). At least 1 benefit indicator in 2 core aspects must be addressed. 


Table 1 shows the 12 Water Environment Indicators which NWG will use to assess the benefits of bluespaces projects. These indicators are linked to those used in the government's 25-year plan for the environment. Projects meeting a high number of indicators will be prioritised for development into Candidate Projects. These projects will deliver the greatest benefits for NWG’s customers and the environment and are more likely to be approved than projects with fewer indicators.

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Working in Partnership

The bluespaces scheme will be delivered in partnership with organisations and community groups from the public, private, voluntary and education sectors in our NW and ESW operating areas. This area of interest covers 10 management catchments: 

  • Till & Tweed, Northumberland Rivers, Tyne, Wear and Tees in the North East 
  • Broadland Rivers, East Suffolk, Combined Essex, South Essex, and Roding, Beam & Ingrebourne in East Anglia and the South East.


The full area the scheme covers is shown here. 


We have expanded NWG’s area of interest for this scheme to include complete management catchments in the ESW area. This allows us to take a regional approach to partnership working and offers potential to improve the water environment in areas which may not be our key focus, but which are important to our customers. 

Funding Available

NWG has identified annual funding to support the bluespaces scheme. We anticipate investment of around £1m over the five years of our 2020-25 business plan to achieve around 250km water environment improvements in our regions.


From 2022-25, NWG intends to invest £0.7m in bluespaces, of which £525,000 will be made available to support partnership projects, £175,000 each year, to be split across our NW and ESW areas and partners.


Our target is to achieve at least 58km bluespace improvements each year from 2022-25, over the remaining 3 years of our plan.


There is no upper or lower limit for funding for projects. The level of funding NWG will offer is dependent on the level of km of bluespaces which could be improved through the project and the benefits delivered for our customers and the environment. This is likely to be seed or match funding but could also cover the total project cost if the project is deliverable with NWG’s contribution only.


Funding is unrestricted and can be used to fund physical improvements along with salary costs and overheads. Contributions need to be linked to delivery on the ground to support km of bluespaces improvements.


As a guide, the average level of investment for projects already developed is £10,000 for a 3km project, but NWG is interested in both smaller and larger projects and will assess these and determine funding contributions on the benefits projects can deliver.

Project Development Process, Delivery and Timescales

The process for logging project opportunities and ideas and developing these into Candidate Projects for inclusion in our plan is set out here. Partners can engage via the Bluespaces mapping portals or by email (see below). If NWG consider a project to be eligible we will contact partners and ask for completion of a development form.


As this is a strategic scheme working across a multi-year plan, there are no formal submission deadlines. Projects will be developed for inclusion within NWG’s annual plans, linked to annual funding limits. NWG’s Water Environment Coordinators will work with partners to develop and support projects and aim to respond to partners as soon as possible after new information is received. 


Delivery timescales for scheme projects will be linked to NWG’s annual plans, based on April-March financial years. Multi-year projects may be supported.  


Funding awarded under this scheme is in relation to a regulatory deliverable for which NWG is required to report to an external governance group. Feedback and evidence of delivery of the improvements should be provided to NWG by successful partners upon project completion or 8 weeks prior to the delivery date. 

Further Information

More information on the scheme and our approach can be found here.


Partners can also contact us directly with any questions: bluespaces@nwl.co.uk

Case studies

NWG work in partnership through our new approach and the scheme to identify, develop and deliver projects on an annual basis.


Our Projects