Wessex Water is committed to doing more and moving quickly to help improve river health and tackle storm overflows. Around £3 million a month is already being invested to improve overflows, which are designed to protect properties from flooding during very heavy rain, with schemes already under way across the region. The work being carried out, at no additional cost to customers, will make a 25% reduction in the operation of storm overflows by 2025, from the 2020 level.
The company aims to fully treat or eliminate any discharge from storm overflows by 2050. Chief Executive Colin Skellett said: “We fully understand the public concerns about river health and, in particular, storm overflows; and we are committed to doing more, doing it faster and transparently reporting progress.
“Storm overflows are the legacy of over 100 years, when sewerage systems were built using the same pipe to carry both sewage and rainwater, with overflows designed to protect property from flooding during very heavy rain. We have 1,300 overflows on our 35,089 kilometres of sewers and we have been steadily eliminating or improving these, but not fast enough.
“Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes; solving this problem will take many years of sustained effort and investment. It is also vital that the solutions we employ stand the test of time, against a background of climate emergency and changing rainfall patterns. So wherever possible we will use nature-based treatment or, even better, the separation of surface water from the sewerage network.”
Top customer service performance
Last year saw the worst drought in the UK since 1976. But through investment over several years in developing a regional water supply grid, together with halving leakage from our 12,116 kilometres of pipes, we did not require any restrictions on the use of water across the region. To keep pace with the changing climate, work will continue to further reduce leakage, and help customers to use less water, as well as planning for additional water storage for the longer term.
Wessex Water’s high quality customer service was again recognised, both in Ofwat league tables and reflected in an excellent Trustpilot score. It was also the best rated water and sewerage company in the Institute of Customer Services national league table of companies from all sectors. Meanwhile, compliance with stringent standards for drinking water, as reported by the DWI, also showed us as the best performer.
We were extremely disappointed we failed to maintain our leading record on environmental performance. As a consequence of last year’s results, no director received any of the 30% bonus potential relating to environmental performance.
Additional help with bills
We recognise it has been a tough year for many of our customers, with extremely high energy prices and food bills fuelled by high inflation. By expanding our industry-leading Tailored Assistance Programme of affordability help, we made it easier and quicker for customers to access the help they need. We will continue to ensure that support is in place for customers who are struggling to pay.
Planning for the future
One of the largest drivers for our investment programme for 2020-2025 is to meet tough new standards for the level of nutrients and requiring any new development to be nutrient-neutral. This is a consequence of climate change meaning lower flows for longer periods in many of our rivers and watercourses, coupled with a growing population and new houses, resulting in high nutrient levels.
Significant investment is required to improve river water quality and we are pressing for changes to allow much greater use of more sustainable, lower cost nature-based solutions which would mean much smaller bill increases. We are continuing to discuss this with government and regulators.
Mr Skellett said: “We will continue to champion innovation and markets to drive down costs and, as a result, bills. In particular, we are seeking to implement nature-based solutions and partnerships, which would have multiple benefits in keeping costs down, having a lower carbon footprint, supporting nature recovery and improving resilience.”
Stable, responsible ownership
YTL has owned Wessex Water for more than 20 years, making it the longest single owner of a UK water and sewerage company and shown responsible ownership, making the company one of the best performers in the sector.
Sir Francis said: “We stand ready to invest further in Wessex Water for a fair return, to help finance the much enlarged future investment programme.”
Financial results for 2022-23 showed profit before tax fell from £68.5m last year to a loss before tax of £28.9m this year, mainly due to the challenges posed by inflationary pressures on index linked interest, labour, power and chemical costs.