Water firm pressured on drought role

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The Independent Online

Yorkshire Water, which has been heavily criticised for its handling of the drought, promised to produce a detailed plan of action to deal with the water shortage last night.

The plan will be ready by next Monday, Sir Gordon Jones, chairman of Yorkshire Water, told John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, in London yesterday.

Sir Gordon was invited to a meeting by Mr Gummer after parts of Yorkshire were identified as the areas hardest hit in a report on the drought from the National Rivers Authority last week.

A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment said after the meeting: "They had a clear and direct discussion which went into some detail on what is being done . . . especially to avoid standpipes."

She said that Yorkshire Water had promised to provide a detailed zone- by-zone report on plans for the region by next Monday together with medium and long-term predictions for water supplies.

Earlier in the day Sir Gordon, who earns pounds 189,000 a year, admitted that Yorkshire Water had not spent enough money on reducing leaks but dismissed suggestions he had been called in for a "going over" by Mr Gummer. He said: "I do not see it like that. But I think we are now culpable in the light of history in that we did not spend enough money on leakage reduction as a means of securing supply."

He also said he felt the spotlight had fallen on Yorkshire, rather than any other company, because it had been the first firm to recognise the extent of the problems and take action.

He could not promise customers in parts of West and North Yorkshire they will not be faced with rationing or standpipes. "A lot now depends on the way people respond to appeals to use less water and on the weather," he said.

The DoE spokesman said ministers had no plans to meet the heads of North West or South West Water, companies which are also facing critical situations in some areas.

North West Water yesterday became the latest to apply for a ban on non- essential use of supplies saying recent rain had had no impact on reservoir levels. The ban would cover Greater Manchester, most of Lancashire and Cumbria.