Councillors in Wealden have joined forces to pass a cross-party motion at an extraordinary meeting to hold South East Water accountable for recent water supply failings.

The motion was proposed by Councillor D White and signed by Councillors Benton, Cleaver, Collins, Gadd, Lunn, Millward, Reed and Shaw to consider the recent failures on the part of South East Water to maintain an adequate supply of water to parts of the district.

This motion follows the recent incident in the north of the district where water outages lasted five days in some areas leaving homes and businesses without water, schools to close and farmers struggling to feed livestock.

The proposed motion asked for the leader and the chief executive of Wealden to write to South East Water asking for a full explanation of the causes of the recent failures, full details of the actions taken to address them and to mitigate the effects to local residents,  including details of when the company first became aware of the problems and the timing of its response; and confirmation of the steps being taken to ensure that there is no recurrence of the failures.

The second part of the motion addressed the impact of climate change and the increasing demand for new housing in an area of acknowledged water stress.

The council asked Wealden’s leader and chief executive to notify OFWAT, and the government to consider concerns at the failures on the part of South East Water to maintain an adequate supply of water to our existing residents and the effect of this upon their health and wellbeing. They also asked the Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government to support a reduction in housing numbers for the district until there is a long-term solution to the water shortage.

Councillor David White, Independent councillor and leader of the Independent Group, said, “Twice in the space of eight months a significant number of Wealden residents have been left without water. First during the period immediately before Christmas 2022, when as a consequence of a freeze thaw event in December, 286,000 properties including large parts of Rotherfield, Wadhurst, Crowborough and Tunbridge Wells were without water for upwards of a week.

“Within less than six months and during the first spell of hot weather this year much of the same areas, and some 6,000 properties were again without water for several days, this time we were told as a result of high demand.

“Our residents are entitled to expect the statutory supplier to be able to meet its obligations and for this to be guaranteed by the official regulator, if it cannot then it should be replaced.”

Councillor Greg Collins, Alliance for Wealden, Green Party councillor for Horam and Punnetts Town Ward, said, “I want to extend my sympathy to residents impacted by the crisis. The performance of South East Water is inadequate and unaccountable and nothing short of victim blaming. What has become clear is that we cannot accept the long-term failing of private water companies and allowing the blame to be on customers. We are also told that we have no choice but to connect homes to a system that cannot supply existing residents. Our residents deserve clarity, enough is enough.”