A private water company responsible for maintaining a 50-year-old asbestos-cement pipe that burst and left thousands of people in Sheffield without gas is set to spend ‘significantly more’ of its £242million annual profit pounds to upgrade its infrastructure, said one MP.
With snow on the ground and temperatures below zero, at least 200 homes in the north west region of Sheffield were still without gas on Monday, 11 days after the main Yorkshire Water pipe burst and flooded the gas network with more than 1.5 million liters of water. . Around 2,000 homes were initially affected.
Olivia Blake, Labor MP for Sheffield Hallam, said Yorkshire Water had ‘very deep pockets’ and should properly compensate all those affected in the Stannington and Malin Bridge area of Sheffield, as well as invest far more of its profits in replacement of old pipes at the end of their useful life.
“Not enough of their profits are going towards upgrading their infrastructure, and we are seeing the results not just in the current situation in Sheffield, but also in the sewage they are helping to dump into our rivers. and waterways and leaks that are popping up all over communities,” said Blake, who previously served as shadow minister for water.
She added: “There has been a series of failures over many years, clearly driven by a desire for profit. Yorkshire Water has very deep pockets and should be doing much more.
Feargal Sharkey, the water campaigner and former Undertones frontman, said the situation in Sheffield showed “it’s time to hold water company directors personally and collectively accountable”.
Experts say the 23,000 miles (37,000km) of asbestos cement pipes laid in Britain are nearing the end of their 50-70 year lifespan, with 6% of Yorkshire Water’s pipes having no been replaced yet.
The Sheffield pipe had previously burst, most recently in 2013, Yorkshire Water said. But the company added it had “no concerns” about drinking water in the Stannington and Hillsborough area after collecting samples since the incident began. Around £500,000 has been spent on mains in affected areas over the past two years, a spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for Cadent, which runs the gas distribution network, said Monday morning that “just over 200 homes” were still waiting to be reconnected after the Dec. 2 incident. Most of these are at Malin Bridge, which is at the bottom of a hill and has therefore been particularly hard hit as the water in the pipes has been pulled down by gravity.
“We expect all of these properties to be back on gas by the end of the day,” the spokesperson said. Eight of them are on the vulnerable priority register, she added.
According to its annual performance report, in 2021-22 Yorkshire Water made an operating profit of £242.3m on revenue of £1.18bn. The company said it spent £434.1 million “to acquire, maintain and improve assets and infrastructure”. It paid out £52.6 million in dividends, which a spokesperson said were “payments to its holding company to cover operating costs and the cost of servicing debt held at company level holding”.
The company was penalized £10.2m by the regulator for failing to meet internal sewer flooding targets and a further £2.48m for pollution incidents, and £7.42million for a total of 41 ‘significant water supply events’ which left customers without water for at least 12 hours.
So far, Yorkshire Water has accepted an automatic payment of £30 to all affected customers in Sheffield to cover excess energy costs. It also invites households to claim the additional costs incurred as well as water damage via a form on its website.
Yorkshire Water said: “Our profits are invested directly into improving our clean and waste water networks to develop innovative ways of working and deliver the best value to our customers. We have not paid dividends to investors for the past seven years and during this time we have invested £2.5 billion in sustaining, innovating and growing the business and its assets to that they are ready for the future.