The stuff of life

SouthEastWaterLogoQuestion: if South East Water has 14,500 km of water mains and they renew 50km every year, how many years will it take to renew all the pipes? (The answer is at the end of the column.) This is the question that popped into my mind at the beginning of the presentation by Chris Love, Delivery Manager for South East Water, who very kindly came over from Margate to attend our parish council meeting on 15th March. He gave us a very informative presentation on the pipe replacement program and responded to questions from members of the public who attended the meeting.

There is a programme of pipe replacement for Brightling. We are just starting year 2 of their current 5-year programme, with Brightling scheduled to receive its pipe replacements in the year commencing April 2017 (Battle Road), year commencing April 2018 (Brightling Road) and year commencing April 2019 (Holingrove). As readers will already have spotted, some of these dates have gone back since I previously reported (in the February messenger). We were specifically promised that they cannot go back any further, because the programme has to be completed within the 5-year investment cycle. However, the dates could be brought forward again: the schedule is to some extent driven by the level of leaks; the more leaks reported, the sooner we will get our investment. This year, real soon, there will be a new pressure-reducing valve somewhere between Battle Road and Kent Lane and there will then be some experimenting with getting the pressure right to get a balance between avoiding leaks while still maintaining adequate pressure for everyone.

One thing that emerged during the meeting is that leaks are getting much more attention than discolouration and contamination, which continue to be real problems for people.

What can we do? Firstly it will definitely help if each person who experiences a problem makes a point of contacting South East Water each time. The sheer weight of calls will raise our profile and make action more likely.

Secondly, keep a diary. Note each time that there is a problem: what was the nature of the problem, when did it start, and how long did it go on for? If we can amass some specific factual history we can collate this and go back to South East Water and demand further action. Facts and figures are much more persuasive than a vague feeling that we’re always getting problems. Alternatively, just drop me an email at with details each time you get a problem. I won’t necessarily respond to individual emails, but if I get enough I will be able to collate them to present an overall picture. The same applies to electricity.

Thirdly, if you are on a meter, and you are told to run your water until it goes clear, you can demand compensation for the wasted water. If your taps suffer damage as a result of grit in the water, you can get compensation from South East Water – just ask. Paying out compensation will definitely sharpen their attention.

We will be keeping an eye on this and coming back to it as necessary.

A final thought. Who owns South East Water? Answer: it has two owners: a Canadian pension fund management company called Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec; and an Australian infrastructure investment fund called Utilities Trust of Australia. Between them they own all the shares in South-East Water. Neither of these two companies is itself listed on any stock exchange, so if you were thinking of buying a share and turning up at the AGM and asking a question about Brightling’s water – well forget it. But I am sure that the welfare of their customers in Brightling will be their top priority.

Quiz answer: 290 years.