‘Hold South East Water to account,’ says local MP

MAINS EVENT: The leak in Spencer Mews

While South East Water (SEW) was busy tending to water infrastructure issues around town last week, Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark held an urgent meeting with Ofwat.

In a follow-up letter to the water regulator released exclusively to the Times, Mr Clark said that South East Water should receive “significantly higher fines” as a result of the continued water disruptions that have blighted the Borough.

On Tuesday July 4, two major leaks flooded pavements in the Fiveways area and saw the water supply turned off in parts of Grosvenor Road. There were also reports of leaks elsewhere at the time that Mr Clark met Ofwat Chief Executive David Black last Thursday (July 6).

In the letter, Mr Clark asked Mr Black to use the watchdog’s powers to speed up investment in the water network that supplies the area.

Ofwat is due to meet SEW management before the end of July.

Mr Clark also asked the regulator: “Use your powers to set [fines] exceptionally, significantly above the normal tariff for outages, given the persistent problems caused to customers and the failure to provide a reliable service.

“Make it clear that no bonuses should be paid to those executives who are responsible for the failure of adequate service to my constituents over the last year.

“Ensure that no dividends are paid out of the regulated business to the holding company until the required investment has been made,” he wrote.

He also called for customer compensation and a “more timely and effective response readiness” for future problems.

There is a statutory requirement for companies to reduce leaks by 15 per cent by 2035 and to minimise mains repairs. SEW has been fined £6million over the last two years for not achieving these targets.

Royal Tunbridge Wells Together, whose Business Improvement District (BID) is funded by a levy on business ratepayers in the town centre, has not met SEW, but hopes to join those pressuring the supplier and the authorities for action, said CEO Alex Green.

Seeking what he called a “cohesive, combined approach”, Mr Green told the Times: “We would like to join with these conversations rather than having parallel solutions. We will be seeking compensation for businesses affected, or subsidies for flood protection equipment.”

“There’s not just a lot of water wasted; there are shortages of water to premises. If that is an office, you can’t have staff in an office with no water. In hospitality, water is absolutely critical.”

Separately, there was a water outage overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday (July 4-5) in Oak Road in Sherwood, which SEW blamed on a burst water main.

And SEW’s map of reported leaks showed scores of incidents this week – although some progress has been made.

The leak at the junction of Farmcombe Road and Farmcombe Close, dubbed the ‘Farmcombe Spring’, was repaired on Friday after three-and-a-half weeks.

A week-long leak that had been pouring down Little Mount Sion from Spencer Mews, Berkeley Road was also fixed.

Residents told the Times the leak had been reported “many times” since Friday June 30, but the SEW helpline had professed confusion over the postcode being given by those reporting it.

Over the county border in Sussex, SEW is also under fire from Wealden District Council (WDC).

At a meeting on June 26, WDC passed a motion to hold South East Water accountable for water supply failings – notably when Wadhurst, Crowborough and other Wealden towns were left without water for several days.

Last week, SEW’s CEO David Hinton attended a meeting with Wadhurst Parish Council on July 6, at which it was it was confirmed that households affected by the water outage in June would receive compensation of £250 each.

According to Cllr Andrew Wilson, who represents Crowborough Southeast on WDC, the compensation would cover those affected in Crowborough, Mayfield and Rotherfield.

The Times has reached out to South East Water for comment.

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