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UK: Water Firm's Plan for Drought Order Faces Challenge After Level of Leaks Revealed

by Hugh Muir and Rob BoothThe Guardian (UK)
June 23rd, 2006

Plans by Britain's biggest water company to impose drought order restrictions on its eight million customers may be challenged in court following revelations that its pipes leak 800 gallons a day.

Councils and small businesses in the south-east are considering legal advice to see if they can circumvent the drought order being sought by Thames Water. They complain that they would be banned from using hosepipes or sprinklers in parks or on artificial surfaces used for recreation.

The Federation of Small Businesses, which has sought legal advice independently, says about 250,000 workers in 25,000 businesses operating in the area would be affected by a drought order.

Thames Water plans to ask the government for an order extending hosepipe and sprinkler ban to public and commercial uses. Criticism has been sharpened by estimates of the leaks, plans to increase water bills by 24% over five years and yesterday's disclosure that Thames Water's pre-tax profits rose by a third to 346m.

Sir Robin Wales, chairman of the Association of London Government - which represents to its local authorities - said: "Thames Water must be called to account. They are failing people across London."

Sir Robin, the mayor of Newham in east London, added: "I want them to spend half their profits on fixing the leaks and almost doubling the amount spent on their pipes. It is evident that their current investment is not enough."

Stephen Alambritis, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, said jobs were at risk. "We might be looking at 50,000 jobs on the line among car washers and window cleaners," he said.

A Thames Water spokeswoman said 500,000 a day is spent on reducing leaks but emphasised that the firm must stay profitable to secure future funding.

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