Yorkshire Water ready to sue users

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The Independent Online
Parkland, one of Yorkshire's biggest textile producers, yesterday said it was facing legal action by Yorkshire Water in an industry-wide dispute over water charges.

The Independent has also learned that Parkland, which makes wool fabrics for large retailers including Marks & Spencer, will locate a new factory in Nottinghamshire rather than Yorkshire, because it can obtain a better deal on water charges there.

The company is refusing to pay a 25 per cent increase in its water bill imposed last October. A seven-day deadline to pay up or face a writ expired last week.

"We've been trying to get an appointment with Brandon Gough, Yorkshire's new chairman, but they say they're still trying to sort out an appointment," said Bryan Lodder, chief executive of Parkland Group. "You'd think courtesy alone would suggest they should wait until that meeting before they take things further. It's a matter of principle."

Yorkshire Water announced phased increases in the "reception charge" for waste water products from textile firms, from 1995 to 1999. Parkland's bill for this year went up by 25 per cent to pounds 100,000, on top of a 38 per cent rise last year. Consumers' bills in the region increased by just 5.6 per cent.

Textile firms are among the heaviest users of water, large quantities of which are needed for finishing and dyeing processes. Yorkshire has argued that historical charges levied on the industry for effluent did not reflect the true cost of providing the service.

Some producers have agreed to pay this year's increase but have been granted further consultation on planned rises by Yorkshire's new management. In the case of Parkland, which has 700 employees in Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield and Oldham, plans are for charges to increase by another 58 per cent over the next three years.

Ofwat was consulted about the price hike, but said Yorkshire did not require formal permission to levy the increase. A spokesman for Yorkshire water said last night: "We will take any steps necessary to recover the outstanding debt. Out of 2,400 companies affected by the new charge, only three have so far refused to pay."

Parkland blames the attitude of Yorkshire Water for its decision to build the pounds 16m yarn dyeing factory in north Nottinghamshire - where it will be a customer of Severn Trent. The plant, initially employing 100 people but with a workforce planned to increase to 400, is under construction on a green-field site and is due to open next January. It will make coloured yarns for industrial applications such as car seat fabrics.

Mr Lodder said the company had also considered a similar site in Yorkshire, but Severn Trent's connection charges were much cheaper.

"Severn Trent were extremely helpful, whereas Yorkshire Water couldn't sort anything out for at least a year. They appear to have decided that industry does not need encouragement to remain in Yorkshire. It reflects a general apathy towards manufacturing," said Mr Lodder.