Watchdog damns Yorkshire Water for `persistent mismanagement'

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The Independent Online
A DEVASTATING catalogue of mismanagement of Yorkshire's water supplies will be presented by Britain's official water watchdog to an inquiry this week. It makes clear that persistent failures by privatised Yorkshire Water have greatly worsened the county's continuing crisis.

The report, prepared by the National Rivers Authority (NRA) for an official inquiry into Yorkshire's water problems opening in Leeds tomorrow, shows the company has rarely provided enough water to ensure its customers are free from an undue risk of shortage.

Last Friday, in advance of the inquiry, Yorkshire Water announced the "retirement" of its managing director, Trevor Newton, 52. The chairman, Sir Gordon Jones, is also going. The NRA report describes how the company led by these men ignored warnings of impending crisis, allowed leakage from its pipes to increase, violated its own rules in depleting reservoirs and delayed measures to cut demand.

The supply grid which moves water around the county had "effectively been operated with no margin of safety since 1991-2", the NRA says, although Yorkshire Water consistently reported to the regulator, Ofwat, that no homes were exposed to an exceptional risk of restrictions.

At the end of last year West Yorkshire came perilously close to water rationing - threatening huge disruption to industry and serious danger to public health.

The report is the second indictment of Yorkshire Water by the NRA in as many weeks. Twelve days ago the NRA's chairman, Lord Crickhowell, publicly condemned the company's dismantling of emergency pumping arrangements, warning that "the situation remains serious" for supplies in 1996.

The NRA will tell the inquiry this week that Yorkshire Water - which announced sharply higher profits last year and has just increased prices by the maximum permitted - "has inadequate resources to meet demands now and in the future".

This is partly due to the company's "inability to reduce the leakage from their, and their customers', pipes, despite an apparent commitment to the task for some years".

The company and its previous incarnation as a publicly owned body failed to provide an acceptable service in six out of the past 12 years, and imposed drought orders in 1984, 1989, 1990 and 1991 which were not justified by lack of rainfall.

In 1991 consultants engaged by the company reported that it was falling so short of providing adequate supplies that it "cannot supply peak water demands without the implementation of hosepipe bans and drought orders". Both the consultants and the NRA stressed the need to improve the grid and cut leakage, but to little avail. Leakage rates, already among the highest in the country, "have actually increased since 1992", says the report.

Besides its impact on the company, this verdict is also a sharp rebuff for the Environment Secretary, John Gummer, who has continued to insist that there has been little wrong with Yorkshire Water's performance beyond some badly handled PR.