Thames Water

MQT on 2018-03-22
Session date: 
March 22, 2018
Question By: 
Leonie Cooper
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Burst water pipes resulting from the recent severe freeze left many Londoners without access to water, causing distress and demonstrating the vulnerability of London's pipes and water infrastructure. Thames Water have just produced an 80-year Plan, which shows them reducing the amount of leaks, but also expects Londoners to reduce their per capita water usage to at least the national average. As Mayor, what can you do to hold water providers to account for leaks and help them to support their customers to cut their water usage?


Answer for Thames Water

Answer for Thames Water

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you.  I was extremely disturbed to see the recent supply issues which caused many Londoners to be left without water, some for up to four days.  It is simply unacceptable that thousands of Londoners, households and businesses were affected across London.  The unusually cold weather was a factor in the burst water mains and supply disruptions, but there is an expectation that water companies have plans for this kind of extreme weather event and will inform customers in advance of any expected disruption.


I have written to Thames Water and Affinity Water, which experienced the biggest problems at the start of this month, and expressed my concern that Londoners are paying the price of poor planning and decades of underinvestment in London’s water mains.  I had already been putting pressure on Thames Water since the spate of major water mains bursts in 2016 to ask them to do more to reduce the risks of mains bursts in London.


The Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy, Shirley Rodrigues, has worked closely with Thames Water to apply pressure to reduce leakage and mains bursts.  Thames Water is currently taking too reactive an approach.  They need to proactively identify where there is a potential for leaks and mains bursts using modern technology.  I also want to see a greater level of investment in mains replacement to accelerate a programme which is behind schedule whilst minimising disruption to Londoners.  I am clear that the cost of redressing this should not fall on Londoners to bear.


I have asked both Thames Water and Affinity Water to improve their communication and engagement with customers, especially vulnerable customers.  This was extremely poor, especially to do with emergency bottled water distribution.  Also, after Thames Water improved their compensation offer, I would expect Affinity Water to offer the same level so that there is an equitable response across London.


I am also calling for the regulator, Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) to take more action to improve water company performance.  I have written to the Chair asking him to use Ofwat’s full regulatory powers to ensure London’s water companies make significant improvements.  It is clear that in the long term new resources are needed to meet Londoners’ water needs.


Leonie Cooper AM:  Thank you very much, Mr Mayor.  One of the things that came out just before this spate of burst pipes and lack of supply for so many Londoners - including staff in this building and many of my neighbours in Balham and Tooting - was that they have just produced an 80-year Water Resource Management Plan.  In that plan, they are requesting that Londoners should do a lot to reduce their water usage.


Would you agree with me that it is going to be impossible for us to sell that to Londoners as politicians with responsibility for making sure that there is water supply?  We know that the climate is changing and therefore London is already a dry city and we do not want to face what is about to happen, potentially, in Cape Town, but it is going to be really hard to sell to Londoners that they should reduce their water use when they see fountains bursting out of roads and not being fixed for 20 days.  We have just had one example in Putney.  Would you agree with me that we need to see Thames Water stepping up?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Absolutely, but not all fountains are bad things.  We are trying to have some more.  We are trying to open up some this summer, but I know what you mean.  You are right.  On the one hand, we are trying to encourage businesses and those of us who live in London to reduce water usage.  On the other hand, we see massive inefficiencies in relation to major leaks that could have been spotted in advance and dealt with.


My draft London Environment Strategy talks about some of the things we can be doing to reduce usage.  We are also encouraging in the draft London Plan new buildings to be less reliant on the amount of water they have in the past.


However, you are right.  They have to raise their game.  Those are some of the conversations that Shirley Rodrigues and my team have had with Thames Water and it is really important to use technology and innovation and also investment to try to reduce these leakages.


Leonie Cooper AM:  Their comms were terrible during the recent problem stage.  They were mainly communicating on Twitter, which is fine for those of us who are on Twitter, but anyone who was not on Twitter did not know really what was going on and when their leaks were going to be fixed.  Also, they ran out of water bottles at some of the stations.  Is there more that they could also be doing in the immediate aftermath of problems and issues?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  From my experience of what happened in south London, I thought Thames Water was poor.  The comms was poor.  The number of stations was poor.  The figure they gave my Deputy Mayor [for Environment and Energy] of the number of vulnerable people just cannot be accurate because I refuse to accept that there was only that number of vulnerable people where I live in London.  Also, bear in mind, as you know from the experience we had with the water leakage - and by the way, that was north London as well - for hospitals, primary care, also mental health institutions and schools, it was really poor.  It is really important that lessons are learned from this.  That is one of the things I have said in my correspondence with Thames Water, with Affinity and with the regulator.


Leonie Cooper AM:  Ofwat.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ and one of the things that Shirley [Rodrigues] will be discussing when she meets, as she does regularly, with Thames Water as we go forward.


Leonie Cooper AM:  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Chairman.