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Mrs. Helen Jackson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if there had been a connecting grid between the Kielder reservoir and the Yorkshire and Humberside area, this crisis would not have occurred?

Mr. Riddick: Yes. I have talked to Yorkshire Water about that. The fact is that the company can get water from the Kielder reservoir into the Tyne and the Tees; it needs to build a pipe about 10 miles long from the Tees to the Swale, and thence to the Ouse so as to pipe it through to Leeds. Currently 90,000 tonnes of water are being transferred from the Ouse to the Leeds grid. A senior manager of Yorkshire Water told me yesterday that the company is looking for massive pumps to increase the rate of flow from the Ouse.

Once the immediate crisis has been overcome, Yorkshire Water must invest in a grid to ensure that water can be transferred between various parts of the county, and bring in water from outside the county when necessary. Water storage capacity needs to be increased to meet the demands of an increasingly prosperous society. That can probably be done by a combination of increasing yield from ground waters and industrial rivers, and possibly from new reservoirs and outside sources such as Kielder. Leaks should also be reduced in the short term, and Yorkshire Water must do whatever is necessary to maintain supplies.

The Government must not, however, grant the drought order because rota cuts would be wholly unacceptable in this day and age.

11.36 am

Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North): I found some of the comments that we have just heard amazing. I wonder where the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) has been throughout this episode.

In the first week of August we in Bradford were told that, unless there was significant rainfall by the end of August, we would have standpipes. That idea fell by the wayside, though not because of rain. At the beginning of September we were told that, instead of standpipes, we were to have alternate 24-hour rota cuts. That resulted in an application for a drought order to the Secretary of State for the Environment, and a public inquiry was set up. For some reason, the application was withdrawn at the last minute and the public inquiry was cancelled. In the meantime, we have not had much rain.

22 Nov 1995 : Column 602

Another difficulty lies with the statistics supplied by Yorkshire Water. If we calculate average daily use, the amount of water brought in by tanker and the amount of rainfall that we have had, the sums do not add up. I suspect that, all along, supplies in West Yorkshire have been between 10 and 15 per cent. higher than Yorkshire Water has admitted; otherwise Calderdale would have run out of water five weeks ago.

It seems that Yorkshire Water has no conception of what rota cuts would do to the economy. Their effects on householders and schools are obvious. Of the top 50 overseas-earnings companies in Yorkshire and Humberside, 13 are in Bradford, representing £1 billion of exports and 20,000 jobs. These companies are being told to shut down every other day. Let us consider companies operating in the food chain. They are being told to boil the water that they use on alternate days. Sunblest bakery is located in my constituency; it uses 500,000 gallons a day, making an awful lot of bread. The director asked me how he was supposed to boil that much water before using it. That bakery will be short until the rota cuts have finished. If they continue, every school kitchen will have to close, and every supermarket and small business will be at risk. Yorkshire Water has no conception of what has been going on.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Yorkshire Water wrote to the affected companies asking why they did not relocate during the crisis.

Mr. Rooney: That would be all very well if they could relocate in the Amazon rain forest.

Yorkshire Water has claimed that the problem lies with consumption and supply, but in fact it is a problem of distribution. Throughout the summer months--even according to Yorkshire Water's polluted figures--supply in the area did not fall below 45 per cent. The whole system is geared to a water supply in the Pennine areas, and pumping stations to pump it into the east; there is no facility for pumping it back. As a result, the east of the county was flooded with water while there was a shortage in the west.

In the first week of September, when Bradford was faced with the prospect of 24-hour cuts, Yorkshire Water was taking tankers to the racehorse trainers' gallops at Middleham and Malton--free of charge--and spraying water all over the place. The racehorses had to be protected, but the people of Bradford could have their water cut off every other day; that was fine. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of gallons were being delivered every day, free of charge. That is nonsensical.

Those who know the geography of the area will be aware that Bradford and Leeds are next to each other. In September, when the discussions were in progress, it was suggested that a pipe should be installed connecting the distribution system covering the area between Leeds and Sheffield with that of Bradford. The local authority offered manpower, and even offered to contribute to the cost, but Yorkshire Water would not entertain the idea, which would have obviated any need for rota cuts.

Since July, when Mr. Newton made his infamous claim not to have had a bath for three months--which turned out to be about as truthful as his supply statistics-- Yorkshire Water appears to have been run by a public relations gentleman called Steve Painter. At the end of the day, Mr. Painter is a messenger boy, albeit a very good

22 Nov 1995 : Column 603

one. Unfortunately, like most messenger boys, he does not understand the message that he is conveying. The public are fed to the back teeth with being told that it is all their fault; they are fed up with being treated like idiots. It is time that Yorkshire Water put those who are in charge of the system up front, rather than the public relations people. It is time that it gave the public confidence in the water supply.

Towards the end of September, when Bradford was still under the threat of 24-hour rota cuts, an appalling fact came to light. Yorkshire Water had signed up to 61 commercial deals with Bradford companies, involving supplying them with water from Selby: they would have to pay for transport, but not for the water. No nursing home or person with a home dialysis machine could have a water supply, but a commercial concern that was willing to pay could have one. That sums up the difference between 1976 and 1995.

11.43 am

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen): I welcome the opportunity to speak about Yorkshire Water, and congratulate the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) on obtaining the debate. I shall express my views on behalf of 77,500 constituents and their families; I also spoke on their behalf on Friday, when I attended a public inquiry.

It is a matter of public record that Yorkshire Water has spent millions of pounds on infrastructure. It has certainly spent a good deal in my constituency. Indeed, it has spent more than has been spent for centuries. Much more needs to be spent, however, particularly on leakage control. It is nonsensical that so much water is being lost every day when it is becoming such a precious commodity. I believe that every consumer in the Yorkshire Water area should benefit from water supplies at home and in hospitals, schools and businesses.

The situation is serious, and it should have been anticipated. We have not had the rain that we should have had. Certainly, neither my hon. Friend the Minister nor Yorkshire Water can make it rain--if they have tried, they have been using the wrong rain dance man--but Yorkshire Water should have started planning for the worst possible scenario early in the summer. If it had taken action at different stages, putting its plan into operation, we should not now be discussing the possibility of rota cuts.

Of course we must all save water: everyone has a responsibility to do that. I wonder, however, whether Yorkshire Water--or, perhaps, my hon. Friend the Minister--can tell me who owns the water that is in the full reservoirs at Whitley and Addingham, which I understand to be fairly full, and why it is not available in my part of Yorkshire.

It was not at all helpful of the managing director of Yorkshire Water to say on television that he had not had a bath for three months. When the media asked me to comment, I said that I would hate to sit next to him on a bus. We have spent years taking people out of houses that had no proper facilities such as running water, but now there is a possibility that we will allow Yorkshire Water to cut off the supply that we spent so much money and time installing. People in Batley and Spen want water-- they are not too worried about compensation--and they want it delivered through their pipes rather than in bottles.

22 Nov 1995 : Column 604

There is no shortage of water in the surrounding areas. It is absurd to say that there is a drought. It seems that everywhere in the country except our bit of Yorkshire has water; why cannot some of it be piped to us? What is Yorkshire Water doing about this?

Yorkshire Water has been running more than 200 tankers, and the number is to rise to 600. That is fine, but anyone driving up the M62 at any time of day or night will follow a constant stream of tankers. When they enter urban areas, people's lives become impossible: it is as if a rolling tank regiment were passing their doors continuously, day and night. Many people are being made ill; they and their children cannot sleep. Yorkshire Water must take the problem seriously. The tankers bring their own pollution, along with traffic congestion and noise.

Why can we not have a temporary pipeline? I am sick and tired of everyone telling me over the past few months what cannot be done; I want to hear what can be done. If our Army engineers were here, they might be able to install a temporary pipeline, but they are all in Bosnia. I believe that we in West Yorkshire are just as important as those who are suffering in Bosnia.

I am told that it would take between six and nine months to install a pipeline. Why? We sent our Army into disaster areas to lay pipes in difficult conditions and in a very short time. If all else fails, why do we not get Anneka Rice? She can do almost anything in 48 hours. Perhaps we should talk to her--or perhaps Yorkshire Water should do so.

We are told that we have part of a pipeline that goes from Kielder all the way down to Teesside, and I understand that there is a gap of about six and a half miles. If that gap were filled, the supply could be brought to Swaledale; once it arrived at Swaledale and the Ouse, we could all have water.

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