SOUTH East Water (SEW) has apologised to residents in Tunbridge Wells and promised to focus on ‘doing all we can’ to prevent supply issues in the future, after thousands were left without water in the run-up to Christmas.
The water company has also now promised compensation for the households affected.
Supply issues began during the cold weather snap in mid-December and were exacerbated when the snow and ice thawed, which resulted in burst pipes.
Many residents did not have water reinstated until Christmas Day.
Around 15,000 customers in Kent and Sussex, including some 3,000 in and around Tunbridge Wells, were affected by the water issues that saw many relying on bottled water and even using snow and rainwater to flush their toilets.
Last week, SEW Operations Director Douglas Whitfield apologised to all those affected.
He said: “The few remaining customers who were without water following the bursts and leaks caused by the rapid thawing of snow and ice last week had their supplies restored on December 25.
“Now the water network is stable, we are analysing what happened to understand exactly which customers were impacted and for how long.
“We understand the impact the loss of water supplies has on local businesses and we are so sorry for any disruption caused.”
He said that businesses that had to close due to water supply issues should claim on their insurance and SEW would work with the insurers to settle any costs.
Meanwhile, household customers should receive compensation by the end of January.
Mr Whitfield said: “As soon as our analysis of what happened is complete, we will then assess what compensation levels may be applicable in accordance with our Guaranteed Standards of Service.
“Compensation payments to eligible customers will then be paid in the New Year. Customers do not need to contact us to be eligible.
“We are passionate about providing the best possible service to the communities we supply.”
He continued: “We realise the service we provide our customers has fallen short and we will now be focusing on doing all we can to prevent these issues re-occurring in the future.”
However, the water company’s apology did not come before Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark has heavily criticised the company and demanded compensation.
He told the Times: “The 10 days before Christmas was enormously stressful for many of my constituents left without running water.
“Although supplies were restored to most people just before Christmas I am determined that the consequences will be dealt with. Residents and businesses affected must be compensated, and I believe that the company should make a wider financial contribution to the communities affected in both the November and December outages.
“I am meeting with the senior management of South East Water on Wednesday to press for this.
“We also need an urgent plan to upgrade the resilience of the local network so that there is protection against water outages in future. I have asked the Chief Executive for such a plan prior to the debate in the House of Commons I have applied for.”
Residents have also continued to express anger after the water outages.
Dr Ian White, a resident of Sandrock Road in TN2, slammed the company for under-investment and called for managers to resign as December’s supply issue was not an isolated incident.
“I have calculated that I have had a total of 193 hours without any water at all since July, and more time with insufficient pressure,” he told the Times.
“The disruption is a direct consequence of South East Water’s policy of minimal preventive maintenance, dating back for many, many years. Sooner or later, it was going to catch up with them.
“The weather we have had has been bad but not unusually so and for South East Water to blame it for all their problems is deliberately misleading. Senior management must accept responsibility with consequent resignations.”
Marianne Amos, another resident of TN2, said while her supply had been restored in time for Christmas, she had been forced to host a wake for her mother’s funeral on December 19 without water.
Criticising SEW’s lack of communication and investment in pipes which could withstand both freezing weather and thaws, she told the Times: “I don’t think anything is stress-tested at all.
“My brother from Norway was here for the funeral and said: ‘We live in -20C and never have problems like this’.”