When Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote the memorable line ‘Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink’ in his much-celebrated poem 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', he was talking about sailors being surrounded by an ocean of undrinkable water whilst languishing on board a ship stuck in the equatorial doldrums. Well, the good people of Loose in south Maidstone may have felt similarly last week, being surrounded by ice and then rain, but with nothing coming out of their taps.
South East Water (SEW) are in the news once again, with yet more interrupted water supplies to hundreds of people in my constituency of Maidstone &The Weald, for several days. SEW say it was a result of technical problems caused by heavy rain and cold weather at their water treatment site in Forstal. But I’m afraid this is just not good enough in 21st century Britain and SEW need to up their game, or be removed to make way for a better operator.
Regular readers may recall my last missive on this serious issue published here on January 9th this year, where thousands of homes and businesses were without water during 10 days or so before Christmas day. That event was sufficiently serious to merit permission for a House of Commons debate in Westminster Hall on ‘The Performance of South East Water’. The debate took place on 17th January, to bring to Parliament’s attention the serious shortcomings of the company. Rebecca Pow MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, attended and revealed that in 2021/22, 39,000 SEW customers were without water for between 1 hour and 126 hours. This is despite SEW’s performance commitment to achieve an average supply interruption time of just 6 minutes. Minister Pow also confirmed that SEW “is the worst performer in the sector on this metric of supply interruptions”.
I have been asking SEW to provide compensation to customers for the financial losses and massive inconvenience at Christmas time that was suffered by so many. To that end I am pleased to report that this does now appear to be happening. One constituent in Staplehurst has reported that they have received a credit to their water account of £250 in light of them having no water at all for an extended period of time. I understand that homes which did have some supply but at very low pressure, are receiving a credit of £150.
As for SEW avoiding a repeat performance, I have a meeting arranged in February with their CEO, David Hinton, to investigate what future resilience measures the company will be putting in place, and I look forward to that discussion.