WestEndExtra

The independent London newspaper

Floods: ‘Take water into public ownership’

Labour leader’s call in the aftermath of devastating damage

23 July, 2021 — By Tom Foot

THE leader of the Labour Party has signalled support for the renationalisation of the water service as the fallout from devastating floods continues for hundreds of residents in Westminster.

After calls to scrap Thames Water reignited ­following “unacceptable” damage last week, Sir Keir Starmer told the Extra that “common ownership” was the way forward.

Residents spoke this week about how they have lost everything and been made homeless, some losing sentimental items including love letters between late parents. One woman said she was “engulfed in sewage” after her toilets began erupting with waste water forced up from the drains during last Monday’s downpour.

A fighting fund has been set to help people in Maida Vale, who have “lost everything”.

Thames Water said this week it would pay for an independent investigation given the “seriousness of the event”. Its £17.5million flood defence system, installed in Maida Vale six years ago, failed to protect hundreds of homes and businesses.

Kerry Skarratt, who lives in a basement flat in Bayswater, recalled the events of Monday: “I looked in the bathroom by our front door and saw sewage erupting out of the toilet. My kids were running through the flat trying to lift items up from the floor to higher places and unplugging electrical items, and moving our hamsters to safety.

Toys and games ruined by the muck

“Then water started coming in at the front door. The lower two rooms near the front door were very quickly calf-high in sewage. At the back garden we couldn’t get out because the flooding was a quarter way up the door and there’s nowhere to go from there. We couldn’t open the front door due to the water pressure on it from outside. The sewage by now was erupting from both toilets, the bath and the shower.

“Then water started entering the kitchen under the sink. My 12-year-old daughter was hysterical and panicking.

“Eventually I called my upstairs neighbour who came downstairs to help me with the door. Between the two of us we eventually managed to get it open and he helped lift my children out to safety. I followed in wellies, which were immediately engulfed in filthy sewage. We had three backpacks and two hamsters in carry cases with us.”

Ms Skarratt’s family has moved into a hotel and a friend’s apartment and have had to pay for rental cars, eating out, removal of possession, and storage. All her furniture and white goods have had to be thrown away and her wooden floor ripped up.

In her complaint to Thames Water, she said: “It cannot be right that raw sewage was able to completely destroy my home or that you do nothing about it.”

Cutting ties with Thames Water, which is responsible for maintaining drainage systems and sewers, was a key plank of former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto in 2019.

Since the Conservative Boris Johnson landslide, Labour has stopped publicly campaigning to scrap Thames Water.

Sir Keir Starmer

Sir Keir’s spokesperson told Extra: “Water should be run in the best interests of the environment and consumers, not shareholders. Labour believes common ownership can deliver that.”

Jody Thompson, whose basement flat was severely damaged, said: “Absolutely, it should be state- owned. They’ve had 30 years running this and they clearly haven’t anywhere near enough in infrastructure and, meanwhile, the fat cats are creaming off the money instead. It’s bloody outrageous.”

Labour MP for North Westminster Karen Buck has written to the chief executive of Thames Water about the “completely unacceptable” response from the company, demanding “immediate action and a visible presence”.

Responding to Ms Buck, Thames Water said its initial analysis was that last week’s rainfall was an “extraordinary event”.

In a letter, the company’s retail director Warren Buckley said: “All our efforts are very much focused on providing whatever helps we can to our customers who have been affected. We will continue to bring in more resources from across our region to assist in the worst hit areas. We recognise that people will want to know whether or not our assets performed as they should during this incident.

“At this stage our initial investigations have not found any evidence of an asset failure that would have contributed to the flooding. However, given the seriousness of the event, we will commission an independent review to determine how assets performed.

“I completely understand the impact this has had on everyone who been hit by the flooding in recent days.”

The council said it was working closely with the London Fire Brigade, Thames Water, and housing associations and had staff on the ground to support residents.

Westminster Council leader Rachael Robathan said: “It is heart-breaking talking to local people, they have seen homes ruined and in some cases businesses destroyed, but need to keep on with the day-to-day tasks of getting children to school and looking after elderly relatives.”

• A crowdfunding link to support flood victims has been set up https:// localgiving.org/appeal/ WestminsterResidentsFloodFundraisingAppeal1/

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