Thames Water have been slammed in the House of Commons by Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes (Lab).
She told fellow MPs: “In my constituency, we have had a Thames Water leak or burst every single week of the winter. “The pipe network is crumbling and causes constant problems, but it is not a surprise. “The unforgivable thing about this week’s water supply problems has been the total lack of a robust emergency plan for a situation that anyone could have predicted would occur sooner or later.
“Thames Water customers, faced with no water supply, have been unable to contact the company by phone or via the website, and have not had access to up-to-date detailed information, while the distribution of emergency supplies has been delayed, patchy and chaotic. “There has been no plan for getting water to customers not already registered as vulnerable, but who are nevertheless unable to carry bottles of water long distances.
“Thames Water made pre-tax profits of £638 million last year. “There is simply no excuse for not having robust emergency plans in place. “The failings this week have been appalling, and they have exposed an organisation that is not fit for purpose. “Will the Minister now commit to ensuring automatic compensation for all Thames Water customers who have been without water this week, and to reforming our water industry to ensure its resilience for future emergencies?”
Responding, Therese Coffey, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said she fully understood why Helen Hayes was so angry on behalf of her constituents. “It is right that Thames Water are very much under the spotlight, and I am angry with it, too. “This is a recurring pattern, but we should recognise that there has been a change of ownership and a change of leadership. “I am absolutely determined that Thames Water customers should receive a far better service than they are now receiving.
“It is not in my power to compel the water companies to give compensation but I can tell the hon. Lady that Thames Water are proactively going around to her constituents door to door in the 5,000 properties affected. “They have been working through the problems with the airlocks. “I am just flagging up the information that I have received. “I know that there was a particular problem with one of its service reservoirs, which it has now fixed, but that has caused further problems along the way.
“I will of course make sure that we keep pressing Thames Water because, frankly, they have not delivered what they should be doing. “I expect a full review from Ofwat that will particularly focus on its performance.”
Statement from Thames Water (taken from their website – Ed.): We have now been able to restore supplies to the vast majority of its affected customers. There’s plenty of water in the network and any remaining air locks are associated with individual properties. The company’s repair teams have been working around the clock to find and shut off the leaks that have been affecting the capital’s water network since the big freeze and rapid thaw.
Steve Robertson, Thames Water’s CEO, said: “We are pleased to have made good progress with restoring supplies today, but very sorry that some of our customers are still without water or have low pressure, in some cases after several days. “We are in no doubt about how distressing and inconvenient this is for everyone affected. “We have been working flat out around the clock to get things back to normal – 131 repair gangs and 144 specialist network technicians are still working on our network, resolving the remaining problems and moving water around to where it is needed.
“We have now repaired the vast majority of the high priority leaks and bursts in London, and storage levels in our network are increasing.
“The remaining problems, particularly in SW16, have mostly been due to air that has become trapped in the system as we have refilled our pipes and moved water around. “We have been finding and removing these airlocks as fast as possible. “This involves opening fire hydrant valves to release air and get water flowing properly, but we needed to do this very carefully to avoid creating additional bursts or other problems.
“I know that customers have been urgently seeking more and better information on the problems in their area. “In current circumstances we have not been able to reply individually to every social media contact we have received, but we are keeping our website updated and continue to have every available customer agent answering phones in our operational call centres. “We cannot always tell our customers what they want to know most – which is exactly when their water will be back to normal – since our underground network is vast and complex and the damage caused by the sharp freeze and sudden thaw has been substantial in several areas of the capital. “What I can say with certainty is that every effort has been made to get things back to normal for everyone as quickly as possible.
“For a second day running, demand for water during busy periods has been lower than expected and we remain really grateful to our customers who have water for continuing to help out by using as little as possible and for their general understanding. “We would also ask customers to be especially vigilant for any leaks in their neighbourhood, particularly in empty houses or commercial premises. “Large volumes of water are still being lost through burst pipes – such as garden taps – and finding them and shutting them all off is a priority.”
Thames Water say the freeze and thaw has caused a huge increase in burst pipes of all sorts – in our network, in commercial premises and in our customers’ homes. It’s also as much to do with water temperature inside the pipes as it is ground temperature.
We have ramped up production of water from our treatment works to try and match the surge in demand, putting an extra 500 million litres per day into supply. That’s 25 per cent above normal and equivalent to 200 Olympic swimming pools.
Before the freezing conditions and snow, we had prepared carefully for the adverse weather in detail, with 155 4×4 vehicles, snow ploughs, grit and extra teams braced across the key operational sites expected to be most impacted. The biggest challenge last week, however, was enabling staff to travel around the region because of icy or closed roads, and treacherous driving conditions, which caused delays reaching customers.
LAMBETH COUNCIL LETTER TO THAMES WATER
(LambethLabour Retweeted Green party Cllr Scott Ainslie (St Leonard’s) ward: Totally agree with this excellent letter. Enough is enough. Well said.)
‘ROGUE TRADERS’ IN NORTH OF BOROUGH – warning from Croydon trading standards
A householder in Broad Green was saved from being swindled out of £4,000 when an alert bank cashier queried his request to withdraw the money from his account.
Croydon council’s trading standards team are warning that a scamming team is working in Broad Green and Selhurst, and residents should be wary of uninvited callers offering to carry out work they describe as urgent, particularly following the recent very cold snap, which saw a spate of burst water pipes.
The rogue traders called at the house, claiming that, while were working on the neighbour’s roof, they had discovered that water was getting into the property from next door, and they were keen to investigate the cause.
With the householder’s permission, they went up into the loft to look at the roof from the inside. They claimed there was a hole in the roof where a number of tiles had become dislodged.
He pointed out that he had not seen any damp patches, water stains or evidence of leaks in the roof, despite recent wet weather. He was told that the wooden rafters were rotten, causing the tiles to come loose, and it would cost £10,000 to replace the roof.
Alarmed, he agreed to the work, and was told that he would have to hand over a deposit of £4,000 before a start could be made. It was while the householder was withdrawing the cash that the bank worker’s suspicions were aroused.
The trading standards team and police were alerted, and enquiries are ongoing.
Cllr Hamida Ali, cabinet member for communities and safety, said: “This was a close call for this particular resident, and it’s thanks to the quick thinking of bank staff that he didn’t lose thousands of pounds.
“And lose it he probably would have, as it’s very likely that, after he’d handed over the cash, he would never see those cold callers again.
“I’d urge everybody to follow the advice of our trading standards team and, if you have an elderly or vulnerable relative or neighbour, be vigilant and keep an eye open for the possibility of rogue traders seeking to take advantage of their situation.”
The council’s trading standards team has the following tips for householders.
BOLD Do not:
• invite cold callers into your home;
• believe that work claimed by cold callers is urgent or necessary; and
• never allow yourself to be taken to the bank by a trader to withdraw cash.
• obtain several written quotes or estimates before any work is undertaken, and obtain a breakdown of costs;
• look out for elderly and vulnerable neighbours; and
• report it – if an incident is happening, and you are concerned, call the police on 999, and trading standards on 020 8407 1311. If not urgent, call the police non-emergency number 101, and the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 040506. (Source: Croydon council press release)