Ofwat wades into sewer flooding row

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The Independent Online

Thousands of homes are at a greater risk from sewer flooding because Philip Fletcher, the water regulator, has slashed the spending plans of the water utilities by half.

Thousands of homes are at a greater risk from sewer flooding because Philip Fletcher, the water regulator, has slashed the spending plans of the water utilities by half.

The companies had asked Ofwat to let them spend £1.47bn over five years to improve ageing sewer networks which will put some 5,000 properties at risk of flooding by 2010.

But Mr Fletcher cut the spending plans to £710m 10 days ago as part of his 230-page draft review of company spending and charges over the next five years. He also suggested that only 4,030 homes would be at risk from flooding by 2010.

A water company executive said: "This is one example where the regulator has said 'I do not think we should spend as much'. There will be pressure from consumer groups on this one. Government may also have an issue."

The cutbacks on sewage-flooding protection are much harsher than the overall cuts, which saw the water industry's £22bn investment programme slimmed to £15.7bn.

Between 2002 and 2003, the number of homes flooded with sewage overflow increased by 7 per cent to over 5,300, according to figures from Ofwat.

Consumer group WaterVoice has already expressed concern about the proposed cut backs. Mr Fletcher's review admitted: "WaterVoice would prefer to see a better balance between customers' priorities and investment in environmental improvements by the Government ... particularly to prevent the risk of homes and gardens being flooded with sewage."

Sewer flooding can take place if sewers are not large enough, after heavy rain, or if a pumping station fails.

Mr Fletcher also said: "Sewer flooding is one of the worst service failures that a customer can experience and rapid progress needs to be made to reduce the impact on customers." But Ofwat also capped company spending per property at risk from sewer flooding at £120,000.

An Ofwat spokesman said: "We have challenged cost proposals put forward by companies. We have been a regulator scrutinising companies' plans."

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