Saturday, 3 May 2014

Report from public meeting with Thames Water on 1st May

The meeting was arranged by Alok Sharma at my request and was attended by senior managers at Thames Water. It was well attended and the room was almost full.

Alok asked me to introduce the meeting. I said that the following were major issues of concern, in addition to the many problems caused by overloaded pumping stations:

  • Why does Thames Water not object to planning applications for new housing when the sewerage system is already overloaded?
  • Thames Water gave a blanket response of blaming groundwater flooding as a cause of problems when there were major problems caused by blockages, such as those at Elizabeth Court and Spring Gardens
  • Major expenditure on tankering rather than capital investment to solve the problems. Tanker drivers had come from as far afield as Ipswich and Rutland
  • Tankering was very intrusive at night due to engine noise and flashing lights.
Thames Water gave the following background to the problems earlier this year:
  • It had been the wettest winter on record
  • There had been major problems throughout the network
  • 30,000 people had been flooded in the region
  • £18M-£19M had been spent on tankering in the region
  • Studies were being taken to understand the causes
Alok asked me to explain the planning permission issue. I explained that Thames Water were consulted on all planning applications. If they did not object then it was next to impossible for the Council to refuse planning permission for sewage disposal reasons. Thames Water were regarded as the experts. Developers were very likely to appeal against such a refusal and inspectors would not only most likely overturn the refusal but would also award costs against the council. Thames Water said that they were not statutory consultees, however I pointed out that West Berkshire Council consult them on all planning applications where the development would affect either water supply or sewage disposal

Thames Water said that, locally, the following had been done or was planned for the Lambfields pumping station:
  • Fencing had been replaced by security fencing to prevent access by children and teenagers
  • A study of its sewer network had been carried out
The following enhancements would be carried out at high priority:
  • The two pumps would be upgraded to new, more powerful ones. These modern pumps would also be less likely to block
  • A new control panel will be installed
  • The pumps had been ordered  and installation would start in early June. Installation should not take more than two months.
  • An investigation into the feasibility of installing an overflow into an adjacent sewer (this depends on the relative levels of the sewers)
The study had covered the sewer up to Aldermaston Wharf and had identified:
  • Groundwater infiltration
  • Surface water leaking into the sewer from ponding on roads
  • Surface water entering from "misconnections", e.g. rainwater goods connected to the foul sewer rather than surface water drains or soakaways
Actions planned include:
  • Sealing plates under manhole covers to prevent surface water entering
  • Patchlining of minor defects
  • Installation of monitoring equipment to detect blockages
  • Cleaning out of pipes
  • A CCTV investigation over the summer
  • An investigation into possible re-configuration of the network
Issues raised by residents included:
  • Concerns about the extra load likely to be imposed by the 350 homes planned for the Lakeside site. Thames Water undertook to supply the impact study that had been carried out for this development.
  • Problems at North Walk. Thames Water were being called out every 6 to 8 weeks to deal with blockages. CCTV investigations had been repeatedly promised but never materialised. Thames Water promised to carry out the investigation.
  • Road safety problems caused by tankers parking close to the Lambfields/Church street junction. This severely restricted visibility. Tanker drivers had said that couldn't park further from the junction because their hoses were not long enough. Cones put out to "protect" the tankers were often not removed when the tankers had departed. Thames water said they would address these concerns
  • Residents having to repeat details of their problem every time when calling back on a previously logged problem. The system the call centre used did seem to able to allow the call agent to view the history of problems at the same address.. These issues had already been recognised by Thames Water and they were planning to upgrade the call centre system.
  • Problems were experienced by Wigmore Lane residents due to the pumping station at Gravel Pit Cottages being overloaded. These would be investigated.
  • Tankering at the pumping station at the end of Muswell Close was very intrusive as it was right in front of a house and tankers had to park diagonally across the road, blocking the drive.
  • A resident in Blossom lane had resorted to pumping sewage from a manhole into another (presumably for surface water) to prevent their home being flooded.
Alok asked if a hotline number could be supplied to residents. Thames Water replied that there was a hotline, but this was restricted to use by council emergency officers and environmental health officers. Wider publication of the number would lead to it being inundated.

Thames Water undertook to produce a written response to the concerns raised. They were asked to do this quickly so that it could be incorporated into a parish newsletter.

Alan Macro
Councillor for Theale
West Berkshire Council

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