Water shortages leaves thousands high and dry as schools, pubs and businesses shut

Pam Mills

THOUSANDS of people in the villages and towns surrounding Tunbridge Wells were left without water this week, many for up to four days, when underground pipes burst.

As taps ran dry schools were forced to close along with businesses including hairdressers, dentists and pubs. One landlord was last night set to give away free beer rather than see it go to waste.

Emergency bottles of water were being handed out in some areas with people limited to six litres. Those with babies were given extras.

Residents and businesses faced the grim prospect of going into day five with no mains water as the Times went to press yesterday (March 6), with South East Water battling to reconnect almost 12,000 properties across its network. By last night around 1,000 were still without supplies.

The pub looking to giving away free beer is in nearby Cousley Wood.

“It’s better than letting it spoil,” said Sara Anderson, who runs the Old Vine Inn.

“We were supposed to have a large pub quiz this evening (March 6), but it may have to be cancelled. If it goes ahead we will start giving the beer away for free.”

With the water out, the pub has not been able to serve diners or accommodate people in its rooms since Saturday.

Without a high turnover of customers the cask beers, which typically last three to seven days once tapped, were at risk of turning sour.

Although she would not disclose the estimated financial impact, Ms Anderson hinted at the likely high cost of the missed weekend.

“We had to cancel 80 Sunday lunches. Some of these were large tables of ten or more people while a big group was a birthday. Naturally they were very disappointed,” she said.

Ms Anderson was particularly critical of the way South East Water was handling the situation.

“What is terrible is the lack of information from South East Water and when they do send it is often late notice, which means we are unable to plan at all. They have kept pushing back the times they say they will undertake the repairs,” she said, adding: “We haven’t been able to clean for days. Our chef is coming in but sadly it’s mainly to empty the fridges.”

Other pubs and eateries which were forced to close over the weekend included the Middle House in Mayfield, which had reopened by yesterday, and the Kings Arms in Rotherfield, among others.

Many other businesses throughout West Kent and the Weald were severely impacted by the water shortages, while Rotherfield and Uckfield primary schools were also reportedly closed on Monday.

Bottle banks with emergency supplies were sited, amongst other places, at Rotherfield Community Centre, the Greyhound Inn on Wadhurst High Street and Pine Grove in Crowborough.

The water outages have been sporadic in nature, typified by Western Road in Crowborough, which has seen residents on one end of the street facing shortages while those at the other end remained unaffected.

Individuals, such as Isobel Home, have seen their homes cuts off for several days forcing them to resort to measures most thought would have vanished in the 21st century.

“Luckily my garden contains a small freshwater spring, so I have been using that for the past four days, although I can’t really get enough to bathe so I still have to visit friends,” the fifty five-year-old said, adding:

“It’s not too bad for me, I can drive to the bottle banks, round to other people’s houses or draw water from the spring. But it must be a real struggle for many older people in the area.”

Her house, situated up a rural lane between Frant and Mark Cross, is neighboured by several farms which are struggling.

“Two of my neighbours are beef cattle farmers and they have no water for their stock. They are having to rely on water rations from other farmers to get by,” she explained.

South East Water said it has teams ‘working around the clock’ to find and fix pipes which ruptured due to ground movement when temperatures went well below freezing last week then increased rapidly.

So far, 71 leaks have been repaired and a further 100 identified. South East Water usually deals with eight to 10 bursts a day, it added.

Incident manager Douglas Whitfield said his teams have managed to restore water to Mayfield and were filling reservoirs in, Rotherfield and Wadhurst with the hope of opening the pipes which feed these areas shortly.

He added: “We know it’s really hard for our customers who have been without water for some time now and we are very sorry.

“We are working as hard and as quickly as we can to get the network up and running again.”


Why did the pipes burst?

When the pipes froze due to the ‘Best from the East’s snow storm, the water inside them turned into ice which expanded and put pressure on piping. However, although this does rupture some pipes, it is actually once the water inside the pipe starts to melt quickly and rush through the pipe that many of them end up bursting.

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