IMG_4638This is a rather long post, but please bear with us, it’s worth reading….

We wrote to Thames Water asking them to explain why their work has taken so long and why so few people seem to working at any one time. We have now had responses from them and from Surrey County Council. First, our letter:

To Thames Water

Roadworks at Copsem Lane and Milbourne Lane, Esher (Surrey County Council Permit No:MU823H553/MCHS11/Z015)

Residents in Esher have been suffering major roadworks by Thames Water since July, as you replace mains pipes. This work is urgent, however, in carrying it out you have caused immense local anger. Your temporary traffic lights are at a number of locations and causing extensive, time wasting, traffic jams and unwanted pollution from stationery cars.

Your permit with Surrey Council allows you seven days working with good hours to get the jobs done:

7am -7pm during the week, 8am – 6pm on Saturdays and 9am – 1pm on Sundays. However, you have chosen to work 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday with no weekend working. Your sites are left for days, with nobody working on them. Had you used the time allowed, we think you could have completed the above works an extraordinary 18 days before you did. 

Your company’s lack of respect for people who live near these roads is clear for all to see. I would like you to explain:

  • Why your team has not worked the allotted hours
  • Why the staffing on site has been so limited 
  • What plans you have to change this way of working while you are still at your other Esher sites

Kind regards 

Esher Residents Association

Thames Water replied via email, implying they’d been working at the weekend. They may have had the odd person sitting in a van, but they certainly have not had any crew doing any serious work on Saturdays and Sundays:

From Thames Water

I’m sorry to hear you believe our permits to work haven’t been adhered to, when we’ve been working outside the above location. I understand your frustrations and the inconvenience this has caused you. However, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak to your Case Manager, Nicolina Votta, on 30 October 2018.

As Customer Correspondence Manager, I have carried out a full and final review of your complaint, in line with our complaints procedure, and I’m replying on behalf of our Customer Experience Director, Kelly Macfarlane.

Your complaint

You sent us a letter dated 23 October 2018, as you’re unhappy about our roadworks in Esher as we’re replacing our mains water pipes in the area. You acknowledged the importance of our work but advised that it caused immense local anger, due to the traffic jams and unwanted pollution. Specifically, you’re frustrated as you believe our contractors aren’t attending the site at the times our permit to work states, which includes weekends. As well as this, it appears the amount of staff on site is limited, which has caused the work to overrun.

It’s disappointing to hear our works have caused such frustration with you and the local community, and I understand when you spoke to Nicolina you advised you had a copy of our permit. Nicolina has contacted our contractors Eight2o, who are doing the work, and asked them to address all your concerns. Please see their response listed below:

  1. We have worked weekends. However, we’re only allowed to work on the main road at weekends, not the side road.
  2. The current permit MU823H553/MCHS11\Z015 states the times we’re to work between are 9am – 5pm.
  3. We don’t have any plans to change the way we work at the moment. Our way of working wouldn’t change as, regrettably, there is nothing more we can do; works under section 61 are set out by the Local Council.
  4. Also, various stages of work require different amount of staff to be on site, depending on what the specific task is at the time. For example, a reinstatement wouldn’t need the same amount of staff as the actual repair. This is why, at times, it can look like the staff on site is limited.

If you have any concerns about any work in the future, please call our Customer Contact Centre on 0800 316 9800 and they’ll be happy to help. Their line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Summary

After this careful review, we’ve considered all of the points in your letter dated 26 October 2018, this is our final position. I appreciate this isn’t the response you were hoping for, as it contradicts what you understand our permit to be. However, as Nicolina advised, permits aren’t set in stone and can be altered at any time if the working conditions change.

I understand the work is inconvenient, but I hope the above shows we’re doing everything we can to complete the work.  In view of this, we are unable to write to you again about this. If you remain unhappy, you may wish to contact the Consumer Council for Water as detailed in our Quality Promise link below.

Yours sincerely

Sian Heather

Customer Correspondence Manager

Remarkably, Thames Water seem not to know the details of their permits. Surrey County Council provided the following image of TW’s permit which indicates clearly that they could have worked at the weekend and for far longer hours than they did.

Streetworks Permit - Thames Water Copsem Lane.jpg

On top of this, Surrey County Council hasn’t the resources to oversee the works in the way they might wish. We wrote to Colin Kemp, Lead Cabinet Member for Place at Surrey CC:

Dear Mr Kemp

You’ll be aware of the havoc Thames Water’s work in Esher and Claygate has caused. From what I can see, they have extended their permits on their various sites, but have never been working the days and hours that Surrey CC has granted them. It’s caused needless traffic jams and unnecessary pollution as vehicles wait with their engine running.

I attach a letter I’ve sent to Thames Water outlining my concerns.

My question is whether Surrey CC has had sufficient oversight of these works to push TW to complete the works as speedily as possible. From a resident’s perspective, it looks as though they put in for a long permit, close the road and then clear off to another site, showing up occasionally to do a bit of work.

Can you let me know:

  • What oversight Surrey CC has on these works – eg does anyone from the Council actually go to the sites regularly to check progress?
  • What powers do you have if they are just being slow because they can be?
  • How we can prevent this contemptuous behaviour by utilities companies happening again?

Kind regards

Esher Residents Association

Mr Kemp’s response was as follows:

Dear Richard

Thank you for your email, your second and third bullet points hit the nail on the head. Although we don’t have unlimited resources to visit every site we do visit key sites such as this one. Unfortunately our powers are very limited.

We do have powers around health and safety on the highways and to make sure they work within the permit conditions.

Other than that we do not have any powers to check time management of their crews if they have a permit for a period of time we can only ask them too clear the site ASAP we have no powers to force them.

I fully understand your frustration as a resident and a driver we have the same frustration as a highway authority and we are lobbying for greater control on our network.

Sorry I can’t give you better news thank you for taking the time to write to them and I know the team will continue to do what they can as well.

Kind regards

Colin Kemp

Lead Cabinet Member for Place

So where does this leave us? Thames Water would seem to have excuses for everything, but we don’t think they’ve put their backs into getting the work done as quickly as possible – one can only presume that money saving is behind what looks like 1970s working practices.

Happily, Esher is returning to normal for residents, but it is down to us to keep up the pressure in holding utility companies to account.