Time to end the drip-drip feed of private profits for water firms

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Thames Water paid our council almost £1m in fines in five years. But the leaks and road works have still continued. Fairfield ward councillor ESTHER SUTTON, pictured right, wants to plug the flow of our cash to the failing utilities

Thames Water has been fined by Croydon Council nearly 900 times in the last five years for roadworks around our borough taking too long. Thames Water aren’t fixing the leaks, and the fines aren’t fixing the problem.

Leaking for profit: Thames Water’s road closures have caused traffic jams across Croydon

We’ve all heard about the privatised water companies dumping sewage in our rivers and seas. But even in land-locked Croydon, they are still making our lives miserable.

It seems like whenever your travel by road around Croydon you spend part of your journey sat in a traffic jam. Persuading more people to leave their cars at home and use public transport would help reduce that, but so would reducing the amount of road works.

One of the biggest causes of road works is leaking water pipes. Some leaks go unattended for days. The works to fix them seem to take forever. And in some places, like Coombe Road in the town centre, the leak appears again and again, even though each time we are told it’s been fixed.

Under Section 74 of the New Roads and Streetworks Act 1991, councils have the power to issue fines for “unreasonably prolonged or missed managed works”. The fines are supposed to punish companies who cause too much disruption. Do they really work?

A Green Party colleague of mine, Andrée Frieze, is a councillor in Richmond and she decided to investigate how bad Thames Water are at fixing leaks. She asked Richmond Council how many fines have been issued to Thames Water since April 2018 and, for comparison, she asked other London councils the same question.

Andrée was shocked to discover that Richmond had fined Thames Water more than £200,000, linked to 350 separate incidents in that period.

But that’s nothing compared to Croydon.

Between April 2018 and when they replied in March this year, Croydon Council has fined Thames Water 890 times, worth a total value of £936,175 – that’s an average of more than 15 fines every month for the last five years!

Croydon is the worst affected borough of all of those that have replied.

These figures are truly shocking and show that Thames Water is failing the residents of Croydon. These figures also show that just issuing fines isn’t making any difference.

The problem is that private water companies are just building up debts and passing on the cost of these fines to you in your bills. The senior managers will still pay themselves huge bonuses and pay out even more dividends to shareholders while they make your life a misery and make you pay more for the privilege.

Sadly, our Government are giving these companies permission to carry on polluting our rivers and seas and show no interest in making them work for us.

This is one of the reasons why the Green Party is calling for water companies to be brought back under public control. We all need a clean water supply and a functioning sewage system to survive.

This is why it should be run as a public service, not for private profit.

As a local councillor, I will do all I can to keep up the pressure on Thames Water to do a better job, but we need change at the top. So next time you are stuck in a jam because of another set of Thames Water roadworks, don’t just sit there getting angry – write to your councillors, your London Assembly Member and your MP to ask them what they are going to do about it.

If you find out they are just going to leave the system as it is, next time vote for someone who really does want to fix the leaks.

  • Esther Sutton is a Green Party councillor in Fairfield ward

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