A council’s inactions and unwillingness to address a water shortage that saw thousands of homes, farms, schools and care homes without running water were highlighted at an emergency meeting today (28 June).
Wealden District Council staged an extraordinary meeting to discuss the crisis which saw South-East Water leaving the taps dry for up to a week earlier this month.
“We believe the only reason the meeting was staged was because we highlighted the council’s inability to handle the emergency and to properly challenge SE Water rather than accept everything they said at face value”, says Conservative councillor Michael Lunn who represents Hadlow Down and Rotherfield, one of the worst affected areas.
After a lengthy debate, it was agreed that Wealden District Council would write to Ofwat, the water regulator, asking for assurance of supply in the future. For Conservative members this fails to go to the heart of the matter.
“South-East Water were evasive on the causes of the supply crisis”, says Conservative group leader, Cllr Ann Newton (Framfield). “It was evident that the water company had no plan nor could they provide any timeline for resolution.”
Throughout the crisis, Conservatives were calling for Wealden to declare a ‘critical incident’ which would have allowed the council to have publicly forced the pace and a more detailed response from the water company.
During today’s debate, it was clear that the anti-Conservative coalition running Wealden District Council, and their Labour friends, were swift to move discussion to the merits of water re-nationalisation.
“It is more than disappointing to have seen a crisis which caused untold misery to so many people turned into a political circus in this way”, said Conservative Cllr Johanna Howell (Frant and Wadhurst) whose area was left without water for an entire week. “How much better, more mature, it would have been to address effective action that might be taken against South-East Water and to restore the reliability of residents’ supplies.”
The Conservative group said it was happy to support Independent David White’s motion today, as it addressed the key issues directly impacting residents now rather than speculating on an ownership model that will not change in the foreseeable future.
“The lessons from this incident are clear”, says Cllr Michael Lunn. “The utility has failed to plan adequately for local demand and manage its infrastructure appropriately. Its incident response mechanisms are also inadequate. There is also a clear failure on the part of the water regulator (OFWAT) which needs to step up. The failure is also one of the Wealden council’s ruling alliance to quickly signal the seriousness of the position and force action.”