Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Water, Water Everywhere...

As autumnal rains cause hovoc on the transport system in the Thames basin (railways, roads), the bureaucratic issues behind the problems are starting to float to the surface.

Price Review
The up-coming five-yearly price review of water bills by industry watchdog Ofwat has declared that water and sewarage companies have been drastically overcharging customers.

According to Robin Pagnamenta in The Times, Thames Water is preparing to appeal to the Competition Commission against the regulator's decision to levy record fines and insist on price cuts of 4% when it had been expected to continue a trend of above-inflation price rises (a rise of 17% was reported imminent earlier this year).

Insiders suggest utility companies will argue that political influence had been exerted over the regulator by the Labour government.

Investment Plans
The company may be forced to suspend dividends and make a £1bn cash-call on shareholders to continue massive investment plans.

This is after the company announced record profits in June and CEO David Owens lamented "decades of under-investment have kept our bills artificially low," while still claiming the lowest average charges in the country.

Some suspect this dramatic and unexpected policy shift may be behind efforts to maximise income from other areas of the companies portfolio, such as the extensive property holdings acquired during privatisation.

In Reading local campaigners have mounted a high-profile effort to prevent development of the Bath Road reservoir site, which has gained widespread political backing.

And concern has grown over the possible relocation of Thames Water's call-centre from Swindon where 500 people are employed.

Flooding Bill
Meanwhile, Labour has trumpeted proposals in the forthcoming Flooding Bill which will remove liability from individual householders for repairs on private sewers, with these costs being added to general bills.

Rachel Eden claims the bill will improve the national situation and help prevent flooding in future.

Linda Fort recently investigated the efforts being undertaken to get the Environment Agency, Thames Water and Reading Borough Council to work together. She reports that the council has only started logging gully clearances in the borough's 17,000 drains since summer flooding caused widespread disruption in 2007.


Update: The Environment Agency's Flood Risk manager Peter Quarmby says being flooded is worse - in monetary terms - than being burgled and argues that "people can do more to protect themselves."

But Mike McNamara says we should keep things in perspective - floods in Britain are nothing likeas bad as in some other parts of the world.

Rachel Eden visits Henley's Museum of River and Rowing and hopes there isn't more rain to come - one thing you can always be sure of.

The Lower Thames Flood Risk Management Strategy, which will see three flood diversion channels created over the next 15 years, has been adopted. A public consultation continues until December 5th.


Interview with Thames Water CEO David Owens - RRL #31.

More information on the Thames Water price review.

More on the campaign to save the Bath Road reservoir.


  1. such an interesting post. You always present different points of view in one handy post. Our hero!

  2. Aww, you make me blush, E!


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