New Forest East



Sir Julian Lewis:  To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if she will (a) take steps with stakeholders to understand the (i) circumstances which led to Southern Water cutting off water supplies to households in the Waterside area of New Forest East constituency during the evening of Thursday 2 November 2023, (ii) reasons for which the water supply was not resumed until the morning of Sunday 5 November and (iii) reasons for the lack of advance warning to customers, (b) make an assessment of the adequacy of support given by Southern Water to vulnerable customers whose water had been cut off and (c) make it her policy to require water companies to increase their resilience levels to ensure they can deliver water to customers during periods of similarly heavy rainfall in the future.  [1]

[Due for Answer on 13 November]


The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Environmental Quality and Resilience (Rebecca Pow): On 2 November, the effects of Storm Ciaran were seen at Testwood Water Treatment Works in Hampshire. The heavy rainfall and consequent flooding impacted water quality, which meant that it was not possible for the Treatment Works to effectively treat the volume of water needed to maintain supplies. This included to properties in the Waterside area of the New Forest. Southern Water attempted to minimise the impact but as soon as it become apparent that supply would be affected, notifications were provided to customers, through their website and social media.

Once flooding reduced, Southern Water increased supplies slowly to safeguard safety and drinking water quality standards. Customers had water supply restored gradually over the course of Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 November. Arrangements were put in place to support those customers off supply, including the opening of three bottled water stations, and regular deliveries to vulnerable customers.

Throughout the water supply outage, my officials engaged closely with Southern Water to ensure steps were taken to resolve the incident as soon as possible. I was regularly briefed on the emerging situation and ensured that Southern Water was supporting customers in the impacted area, particularly those who are vulnerable.

And on 8 November, I met with Lawrence Gosden, CEO Southern Water, to consider what lessons could be learned from this water supply incident and the actions Southern Water are taking avoid future interruptions at Testwood Water Treatment Works. The company is also providing a detailed report to the Drinking Water Inspectorate, who will carry out a full assessment on the event.

Ensuring a plentiful supply of water is a government priority with our Plan for Water, published in April 2023, setting out how we will enhance water supply infrastructure and improve resilience to drought as well as managing water demand. Earlier this year, regional water resources groups and water companies, including Southern Water, consulted on their draft Water Resource Management Plans. Within their plans, water companies must consider all options, including demand management and water resources infrastructure for at least the next 25 years.

Water companies are also using the £469 million made available by Ofwat in the current Price Review period (2020-2025) to investigate strategic water resources options, that are required to improve the resilience of England’s water supplies. Ofwat also recently announced that water companies are bringing forward £2.2 billion for new water infrastructure delivery, over the next two years, with £350 million worth of investment in water resilience schemes.

Where a company does not meet their performance expectations, Ofwat, the independent water regulator, will take decisive regulatory action. For example, due to underperformance in 2022-23 across several areas, including on supply interruptions and customer satisfaction, draft decisions by Ofwat will mean Southern will return over £42 million to its customers in the 2024-25 financial year.

Government and regulators will continue to closely monitor Southern Water’s Performance and will not hesitate to hold them to account if they fall short.