North West facing hosepipe ban

17 July 2018, 13:20

Hosepipe heatwave

Rain showers have hit parts of the North West of England where a hosepipe ban is set to be introduced next month - but the prolonged dry spell is forecast to resume.

Water company United Utilities said the ban would come into force on August 5 for its seven million customers after what is believed to be the longest heatwave since 1976.

Heavy showers swept across the region on Monday - with 14mm of rainfall recorded in Blackpool - and more is expected on Tuesday, according to the Met Office.

However, the isolated downpours were expected to ease during the afternoon, with a return to sunshine for the rest of the week.

The Temporary Use Ban will apply to domestic customers who get their water supply from United Utilities, with the exception of customers in Carlisle and the north Eden Valley, where supplies remain at reasonable levels.

Martin Padley, United Utilities water services director, said: "Despite some recent rainfall, reservoir levels are still lower than we would expect at this time of year and, with forecasters predicting a return to hot dry weather for the rest of July, we are now at a point where we will need to impose some temporary restrictions on customers.

"It is not a decision we have taken lightly and we are enormously grateful to customers for having helped reduce the demand on our network over the last couple of weeks, but unless we get a period of sustained rainfall before August 5 these restrictions will help us safeguard essential water supplies for longer."

The operation of the industry, privatised by Margaret Thatcher in 1989, is coming under increasing scrutiny, with Labour vowing to re-nationalise water if elected.

Steve Mogford, the chief executive of United Utilities, was paid £2.3 million last year, a 49% increase since 2013.

Bosses of England's nine privatised water companies banked £58 million in pay and benefits over the last five years, according to research by the GMB union published in June.

Household water bills rose by 40% above inflation between 1989, when the industry was privatised, and 2015, according to a National Audit Office report published the same year.

Ofwat, the water industry regulator, has said privatised water firms in England typically lose between 20% and 22% of supply due to leakage.

Cat Hobbs, director of We Own It, an organisation which campaigns for public ownership of utilities, said: "United Utilities is allowing an irresponsible level of leakage - 20-25%.

"A hosepipe ban might be avoided if that water wasn't being wasted. We need to bring water into public ownership now so investment can go straight into infrastructure instead of lining shareholder pockets.

"In Paris, water is now in public ownership and leakage levels have been cut to 10%."

Professor David Hall, a global expert on the water industry at the University of Greenwich, said privatised water firms have an incentive not to fix too many leaks as it begins to bite into profits and become uneconomic for them.

He said: "They are making big profits, virtually all of it taken out of the industry in dividends, not reinvesting anything and racking up debt.

"They can't recoup the cost of making reductions in leakage levels except by reducing profits, that's not what they want to do."