Water Bill

Written evidence submitted by the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety & Rescue Group (WB 10)

1. Introduction:

My name is Ronnie King OBE, O.St.J, QFSM, F.I.Fire E, I am a former Chief Fire Officer, Mid & West Wales Fire & Rescue Service, where I spent 20 years in charge of the Fire & Rescue Service there, having now retired following a total of 41 years in the Service.

I am currently the Honorary Administrative Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety & Rescue Group, which meets frequently to discuss fire related issues.

Up until recently I chaired the Water Liaison Group which is a Group made up of Water Company representatives including Water UK, together with representatives from the automatic fire sprinkler industry. I have chaired this Group since 2006.

2. History

Automatic fire sprinklers have been around for well over years, but their main use has been in commercial buildings such as factories, the old woollen and cotton mills and warehousing. Only recently has the life saving and environmental benefits of Domestic sprinklers been recognised, where a single fire death in a fully maintained sprinklered property is an extremely rare occurrence, with a multiple fire death anywhere in the world, being almost unheard of!

The issues for gaining wider acceptance of these vital life saving devices rests essentially with the fact that they are not classified as "Domestic Use" under the Water Industry Act 1991, and therefore, by default they fall into a category of "Non-Domestic Use", which means that water companies may attach conditions (often expensive ones) to their approval.

In 2004 a voluntary protocol was drawn up between water companies and sprinkler installers (copy at Annex 1 – not published ) in an attempt to resolve the ongoing disagreements between these bodies, which was ‘signed off’ by former Minister Jim Knight MP, now Lord Knight of Weymouth.

Regrettably within two years of the protocol being agreed there were so many departures from the agreement that I was asked to re-form the Water Liaison Group, referred to earlier to try to resolve some of these issues.

For the past seven years I failed to secure compliance with what was a voluntary protocol, and not binding on any party, with the result of frequent examples being raised of water companies insisting on inordinate charges being raised for water connections, with some refusing to allow direct connections to the mains, despite it being part of the protocol; and others insisting on meters which restricted the flow, despite no evidence of theft.

The Water Liaison Group unanimously agreed that the only solution was a small change to section 57 of the Water Industry Act 1991, whereby creating a duty upon water undertakers to provide a supply of water for extinguishing fires via service pipes. This was further supported by Anglia Water’s Regulation Solicitor, and submissions were made accordingly, both under the DRAFT Flood and Water Management Bill and the Water White Paper respectively; but which Parliamentary time didn’t allow to be considered. (A copy of the submission under the Water White Paper is enclosed at Annex 2 – not published )

3. Present Situation

My colleague former Chief Fire Officer Steve Seaber has this year taken over from me as Chairman of the Water Liaison Group, and following almost two years of exchanges of correspondence between Jim Fitzpatrick MP and former Defra Minister Richard Benyon MP, and seven years of attempting to have a consistency in implementing the 2004 protocol agreement, the new Chairman Steve Seaber, along with Dr Jim Marshall, Policy and Business Adviser at Water UK have developed new guidelines to reflect the legislative framework at the time of writing.

However, implicit in those guidelines is that proposed amendments to Section 57 the Water Industry Act 1991 re-defining the scope of  water for fire fighting to include fire sprinkler connections, are supported by water companies and by the fire sprinkler industry. Amendments to the legislation will deliver benefits, but legislative

change takes time and strong guidelines can, in the meantime, be used as the basis for discussions at a strategic level.

(I am attaching the final DRAFT of the new guidelines currently being considered by the respective parties to the agreement as Anne x 3 - not published )

4. The text of the Legislative change being sought:

Proposal:

It is proposed that amendments to Section 57 of the WIA are made as suggested below:

Section 57 should be amended to create a duty upon water undertakers to provide a supply of water for extinguishing fires via service pipes. The duty outlined in this section should extend to the supply of water for extinguishing fires supplied via a service pipe to premises, and the means of extinguishing fires may be via manually operated or automatic apparatus.

A suggested rephrasing would be:

Section 57.(Duty to provide a supply of water for fire fighting) It shall be the duty of a water undertaker to allow any person to take water for extinguishing fires from any of its water mains.

Water for extinguishing fires may be taken:

(i) from fire hydrants fixed on the water undertaker’s mains, or

(ii) via service pipes connected from those mains to consumers’ premises.

· Water for extinguishing fires may be taken via manually operated or automatic apparatus.

· This duty shall exist in addition to any domestic supply duty or duty to supply of water for non-domestic purposes relating to any premises.

· It shall be the duty of a water undertaker to maintain any service pipes supplying water to apparatus installed for extinguishing fires whether the service pipes are used solely for that purpose or jointly for extinguishing fires and supplying water for domestic or non-domestic purposes.

· This duty shall be subject to the limitations in Section 52(7).

· This duty shall not extend to making a supply available in any sufficiency as may be required by any specific apparatus or equipment

Amendment to Section 65:

New Section 65.1(b) have fire hydrants fixed upon them or connections to equipment installed in any premises for extinguishing fires.

The duty should extend to similar obligations around provision of connections to mains, laying, testing and maintenance of service pipes, as are currently provided in relation to supplies of water for domestic purposes.

The duty should not create any additional obligations around mains pressure in networks other than those currently contained within the WIA.

A number of additional issues will remain but these can not be fully addressed until the proposed amendments have been agreed. These are:

· Impacts of meters on water supply;

· Requirements for the provision of on-site storage or pumping;

· Availability of suitably sized service pipes.

Section 147 of the Water Industry Act applies to this new category of supplies for fighting fires and therefore no charges may be levied for the water taken for testing equipment, training persons in the use of such equipment, or water used by such equipment for extinguishing fires. This would not prevent charges being made for water taken for other purposes from the service pipe or apparatus installed for extinguishing fire. To this end Water Companies may require that water meters are fitted to connections. In these situations the water company would ensure that installation of a water meter does not have any detrimental effect on the water available to the fire sprinkler system.

No conditions should be applied which impose storage as the only provision of supply, rather that such a determination be made by the sprinkler installer following consultation with the water company, and having regard to the capacity of the supply.

Designers of sprinkler systems should ensure that in dialogue with the incumbent water provider that decisions are made as the appropriate size of supply pipe that is laid, bearing in mind the limitations of the networks to provide such supplies and any additional installation or maintenance costs that may be incurred.

Clearly all such installations on customers’ premises would fall under the scope of the Water Industry Act 1991.

It should be recognised that with this duty could come an increased maintenance responsibility for the water undertaker, if additional service pipes are laid within the highway and that this may have funding implications for the water companies. The cost of the original laying of such pipes would be borne by the customer.

As the apparatus only takes water for testing or emergency use i.e. extinguishing fires, and therefore has no routine demands upon the water distribution networks or treatment capacity, infrastructure charges should not be levied in respect of these connections; except where new premises would otherwise have been liable and have a single service pipe providing water for domestic and fire fighting purposes.

5. Summary

In summary this suggested legislative small change to section 57 of the Water Industry Act, outlined above, is NOT asking Government to require sprinklers to be installed in various properties, adding to the burden of Regulation; but instead seeks to achieve consistency in recognising the life saving and other benefits of automatic fire sprinkler protection whilst giving fire sprinklers a status, which prevents extortionate costs being levied, preventing them from being affordable.

It has the support of all Water Companies on the Water Liaison Group including Water UK, and of the automatic fire sprinkler installers.

I will make myself available along with APPFSRG Secretary Jim Fitzpatrick MP, to elaborate on this submission if required.

December 2013

Prepared 5th December 2013