In My View: Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood

The focus of our water industry should be on protecting the environment, delivering a safe and reliable water supply, keeping bills down and fighting climate change.

The privatisation of the water industry has instead created a focus on profits for private shareholders, leaving customers paying high prices for worse services.

In my constituency, residents have been consistently failed by Thames Water over many years, with frequent leaks and bursts and water stoppages.

In 2011, a huge water main burst in Herne Hill causing catastrophic flooding from which several local businesses never recovered.

During the ‘beast from the east’ cold snap in 2018, hundreds of households in my constituency were left without water for several days and the arrangements for ensuring emergency supplies, particularly to vulnerable customers, were entirely inadequate.

Thames Water pipes need replacing in many places, but instead of investing in a network which is fit for purpose, Thames have relied for far too long on patch repairs which are cheaper in the short term but only result in repeated leaks and bursts when the repairs fail.

Recently Thames Water have started planned works on Townley Road, Lordship Lane and Heber Road in East Dulwich after meetings that I held with them and local Labour councillors to highlight the frequent bursts in this area.

This investment to replace cast iron pipes with new modern plastic pipes which won’t rust and degrade is welcome, though it is only a tiny part of the overall investment that is needed.

Shockingly however, in an example of the chaos that results from this failing infrastructure, while these planned works were taking place, part of Lordship Lane nearby began to sink due to another Thames Water problem, causing huge disruption to bus routes and traffic while the sinking carriageway was repaired.

This was compounded when the repair failed almost immediately causing the road to have to be closed again.

A further burst on East Dulwich Grove caused days of chaos because Thames Water didn’t appear to have a protocol in place with the dialysis unit at the Tessa Jowell Centre to ensure safe continuity of supply while the repair was completed.

Even more worryingly, the poor state of Thames Water’s infrastructure caused problems during the recent serious fire at a waste transfer station on Shakespeare Road in Loughborough Junction.

When London fire brigades use of the water supply caused a series of bursts in the local area, which then meant that for three hours the pressure was too low to deliver the water that was needed to fight the fire.

This meant that the fire was able to re-establish, prolonging the period during which residents were exposed to smoke as it smouldered.

I have raised the failures of our water industry in Parliament, and directly with Ofwat and Thames Water on many occasions.

The Government needs to hold Thames Water to account for these unacceptable failures and reform of our water industry is urgently needed.

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