A private water company responsible for maintaining a 50-year-old asbestos cement pipe which burst and left thousands of people in Sheffield without gas should spend “much more” of its £242m annual profit on upgrading its infrastructure, an MP has said.
With snow on the ground and sub-zero temperatures, at least 200 households in the northwest Sheffield area were still without gas on Monday, 11 days after Yorkshire Water’s mains burst, flooding the gas network with more than 1.5m liters of water. About 2,000 homes were initially affected.
Olivia Blake, Labor MP for Sheffield Hallam, said Yorkshire Water had “very deep pockets” and should compensate everyone affected in the Stannington and Malin Bridge area of Sheffield, as well as invest much more of the profits in replacing old pipes at the end of their lifespan.
“Not enough of their profits go into upgrading their infrastructure and we see the results not only in the current situation in Sheffield but also in the sewage they are allowing to flow into our rivers and waterways and the leaks popping up across communities,” Blake said , who was previously shadow water minister.
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 a lot more.”
Feargal Sharkey, the water campaigner and former Undertones frontman, said the Sheffield situation showed “it’s time to make water company directors personally and collectively accountable”.
Experts say the 23,000 miles (37,000 km) of asbestos-cement pipes laid in the UK are nearing the end of their 50-70 year lifespan, with 6% of Yorkshire Water’s pipes yet to be replaced.
The Sheffield pipe had burst before, 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 the affected areas over the past two years, a spokesman said.
A spokesperson for Cadent, which operates the gas distribution network, said Monday morning that “just over 200 homes” were still waiting to be reconnected after the December 2 incident. Most of them are located in the Malin Bridge, which is at the bottom of a hill and was particularly hard hit when the water in the pipes was pulled down by gravity.
“We hope that all these properties will be back on gas by the end of the day,” the spokesperson said. Eight of these are on the register of vulnerable priorities, she added.
According to its annual profit and loss report, in 2021-22 Yorkshire Water made £242.3m operating profit on a turnover of £1.18bn. The company said it spent £434.1m on “acquiring, maintaining and improving assets and infrastructure”. It paid out £52.6m in dividends, which a spokesman said were “payments to the holding company to cover operating costs and servicing costs for debt held at holding company level”.
The company was fined £10.2m by the regulator for failing to meet targets for internal sewer flooding and a further £2.48m for pollution incidents, and £7.42m for a total of 41 “significant water supply incidents” which left customers without water for . at least 12 hours.
Yorkshire Water has so far agreed to make an automatic payment of £30 to all affected customers in Sheffield to go towards excess energy costs. It also invites households to claim for additional costs incurred as well as water damage via a form on the 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 possible value for our customers. We have not paid a dividend to investors for the past seven years and during that To date, we have invested £2.5 billion in maintaining, innovating and growing the business and its assets to be fit for the future.”