WATER improvements in the area could come to a stop unless funding is guaranteed after December, it is feared.

The Environment Agency wants Ofwat - the Government's water watchdog body - to ensure that much-needed sewer improvement projects in North Lancashire are included in its investment programme.

It is keen to see continued upgrading of the Lancaster city centre sewer system, which it says is needed to protect bathing waters and shellfish around the Lune Estuary and Heysham.

And it also wants to improve a poorly performing storm overflow in Carnforth, which is contributing to poor bathing water quality in the area.

The complete list of improvements recommended by the Agency for the 2005-2010 investment period has just been published, representing a formal response to Ofwat consultations on its draft price limits for the water industry.

It follows Ministerial guidance published last week.

While welcoming benefits which Ofwat's current recommendations would bring to the region, the Agency believes a full programme of improvements must be implemented if the region's water is to reach required European standards.

It hopes that Ofwat will now consider this list of improvements again before making its final decision on water bill pricing limits in December.

Clive Gaskell, strategic environmental planning manager for the North West, says: "The completion of these schemes is crucial if we are to have a realistic chance of bringing the region's waters up to European standards.

"Without these schemes, together with those still outstanding from the current investment programme, the North West will find itself lagging well behind the rest of the country in the quality of its environment, especially in urban areas."