Thames Water blames Britain’s barmy weather for its failure to fix leaky pipes

The boss of Thames Water has blamed the British weather for the company’s failure to fix its leaks.

Chief executive Sarah Bentley, who earns £1.6m a year, said the hot summer, wet autumn and cold winter all damaged the firm’s pipes.

And she admitted the company, which made £398m profits in its last six month results, would not meet its target to plug leaks this year either.

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Secret letters between Ms Bentley, and the environment secretary, Rebecca Pow, have revealed Thames is not fixing its leaks as promised.

They were released after a freedom of information request and detailed the extent of the issue rocking the network, which serves 15 million customers across London and Thames Valley.

Ms Bentley blamed the hot dry weather last summer, followed by a wet winter, for the increase in leaks, estimated to be 630 million litres a day.

She said: “The hot and dry summer created an unprecedented soil moisture deficit, with ground drying out and causing leaks in our pipes and customers’ pipes.

“It also led to large increases in demand from our customers (in some areas and at sometimes up to 50 per cent more during the summer).

“This drove up unmeasured consumption and the need for us to pump more water through our pipes at higher pressure to satisfy demand that in turn also led to more leaks.

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“The re-wetting of the ground later in the autumn then caused further movement and more leaks in our pipes and customers’ pipes.

“More recently, the freezing temperatures before Christmas, followed by a speedy thaw, has resulted in a new surge of leaks.”

Ms Bentley also told Ms Pow: “We have the highest leakage rate since 2018. Consequently, we have already signalled to Ofwat [the Water Services Regulation Authority] that we are behind on our 2022/23 leakage performance and our target this year will now be very challenging to achieve.

“As annual leakage targets are based on a three-year rolling average, the impact of this year will be felt, not just this year but for the next two years’ performance.”

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The company has tabled controversial measures to tackle drought into the future, including a “recycling” scheme to pump 100m litres of treated sewage into the Thames.

The proposal would replace 100m litres drained from the Thames to tackle water shortages but comes with environmental concerns that could affect fish and other river life.

It would also involve digging three to four 10.5-metre shafts within a protected nature reserve, Ham Lands, according to the Thames documents.

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Another plan they have pitched is to transport 155 million litres of water a day from Wales.

A spokesman for Thames Water said: “We’ve recently committed an additional £700m to improve water supplies. In London, we’re replacing 70 miles of our leakiest water mains pipes, having met additional requirements set out by our industry regulator.

“Despite these challenges, we remain committed to doing everything we can to achieve our regulatory target to reduce leaks by 20.5%.”

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