‘Water company puts profits before pipes’

Following latest leak, utility blasted for not replacing infrastructure

Friday, 29th July — By Charlotte Chambers

Offord Road IMG_5324

Workmen repairing the latest water leak in Offord Road

“WHEN is this ever going to end?” That was the fed-up cry from residents in a flood-hit street where yet again water was cut off this week and massive trucks arrived to dig up their road.

Water started pumping out of the ground in Offord Road on Tuesday morning – a scene of deja vu for people living there, as it’s the third time in four years that their road has been left submerged. A massive sewer also needed three months of work during this time.

This week after a three-metre crack opened up in the road, thousands of gallons of water escaped and the supply was cut to homes in Barnsbury.

Arabella Buckworth, who has lived in the street since 1987, said the whole pipeline – which is around 170 years old – should be dug up and replaced in a proactive manner, rather than waiting for the next “explosion”.

Last year, Thames Water made just under £500 million in profit.

Ms Buckworth said: “It’s sickening and it’s a case of stealing from the poor to pay the rich because they’re not really doing the job.”

When the utility was privatised in 1989, Margaret Thatcher’s government claimed that the sell-off would see funds generated to tackle major infrastructure work.

But it’s only now that the water company is looking to carry out an overhaul of leak prone cast iron pipes by replacing them with plastic ones.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called this an “overdue start to renewing the ageing system that all Londoners rely on.”

Ms Buckworth added: “I think those Victorian pipes have just gone ‘okay, we’re dead now’ and they’re left in the road – they need to be redone. The whole of London needs to be redone – they’ve got the money for it.”

Offord Road is submerged… again

In one previous leak there was so much pressure the water shot up higher than a four-storey building.

“It was terribly dangerous, so dangerous,” Ms Buckworth added.

“The size of the stones – some were the size of a human head flying up though the air like a geyser, and these rocks rolled down the hill.

“You don’t know if your children are playing on that side of the road when one of those go boom.”

Sarah Reardon, who co-founded the Offord Road Green Alliance two months ago, said she believed that while old pipework was a contributing factor to the almost annual bursts, she also blamed the “concerning” volume of heavy traffic that comes down their road each day.

She said: “We know London is built on waterways and we need to be really responsible about maintaining them in a way that’s going to be safe for London and future generations to come.”

But she added: “This is a serious cause for concern and we need to stop and consider why this is happening: is it the age of the water networks? Is it the use of the road and the effect of heavy traffic and HGVs?

“I think that’s what the residents don’t really understand. What’s causing such big pressure on the water system underneath Barnsbury?”

Neighbours say Offord Road is one of the only through routes in the borough, which has left it with up to 14,000 vehicles passing through each day.

According to Ms Reardon, data counts show a 20 per cent rise in traffic every two years. In 2011, the last traffic count showed nearly 12,000 vehicles used the road.

“I think what we need is proper consultation with the residents and a more equitable approach to traffic flow around the borough. It’s not fair that Offord Road has taken the brunt of it,” she added.

She was also said she was appalled at the “gallons and gallons and gallons” of water being lost in leakages, just in her street alone.

Leader of the council Labour councillor Kaya Comer-Schwartz and unions have backed the nationalisation of the water supply – although this cuts across party leader Sir Keir Starmer, who this week said an incoming Labour government would not press to nationalise water or energy companies.

Cllr Comer-Schwartz said: “There’s issues with Thames Water all across the borough. I do think public ownership brings greater accountability and we see that in the public services we provide at the council.

“If your motivation is the profits of your shareholders – which is a different motivation to providing local services – [then] it’s about whether they are reinvesting their profit.

“If it’s a circular economy, if your model is about providing services, then the money goes back into public service.”

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “We’re really sorry for what’s happened [in Offord Road] and our priority is supporting those people whose homes have been flooded. Our insurance team have been calling door-to-door to assess the damage and each individual resident’s needs and we’ll do everything we can to get their lives back to normal as soon as we can.”

In relation to strengthening the infrastructure, they added: “London’s Victorian water network is set to receive a major overhaul to increase water resilience thanks to a £300 million contribution from Thames Water’s owners.

“The unprecedented investment matches the £300 million already included in the company’s spending plans for the 2020-2025 investment period.

“It will improve service by accelerating work to reduce leaks and bursts – increasing the resilience of the capital’s pipe network to the impacts of climate change and helping secure water supplies for future generations.”

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