Fury at water price hike plan

By Jonathan Barnes and James HorePRICE hikes for Anglian Water customers over the next five years will be the lowest in the country, it has been revealed.

By Jonathan Barnes and James Hore

PRICE hikes for Anglian Water customers over the next five years will be the lowest in the country, it has been revealed.

Bills for the firm's customers - which are currently the second highest nationwide - will rise by 16.5% to an average of £331 in 2009/10.

Services for water supplies and waste currently cost an average of £284 a year and will rise on average by 3.3% every year.

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The hikes are subject to approval by industry regulator Ofwat and will pay for a £1.8billion programme of investment over the next five years.

Last night, customers claimed the price rises were too high and would hit people's standard of living.

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Anglian Water, which supplies water to 4.2 million customers, said it had tried to strike a balance between the need for improvements and the impact on its customers' bills.

Andrew Mackintosh, head of communications, said: “Our charges have always been one of the highest because of our long coastline and other factors such as the rural population and the flatness of the land - which means we have to pump a lot of water and waste.

“Our initial investment programme was £2.7bn, but following feedback from customers, we reduced it to £1.8bn.

“Customers do want the highest standards, but they did not want to pay huge increases in their bills, so we tried to try, wherever possible, to reduce investment.

“This is very good news for our customers - we have listened to their views and have struck a balance between the investment programme and the impact on bills.”

The investment programme will improve river quality across the region, including the Broads and the Wash, connect 86 villages to the mains sewerage for the first time and alleviate odours at specific sites across the region.

Anglian Water's proposals will be considered by Ofwat and there will be further consultation with interested parties before the new prices come into effect in April 2005.

Barbara Williamson, chairman of Colchester Pensioner's Action Group, said: “It is just another lowering of the quality of people's lives. It will mean pensioners have even less cash to spend.”

Tony Constable, from Colchester, who has fought for pensioners' welfare since the recent hikes in council tax bills, added many elderly people were finding the extra costs too much.

“Enough is enough, they cannot justify this. Most pensioners are going on meters as a direct result of this,” he said.

“Our bill has gone up by £37 this year - that is an amount that some pensioners will struggle hard to find, especially when 21% of their income from pension goes on council tax.”

Karen Ainley, president of the Colchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “It's my personal view point that while we understand that utility companies need to make investments, it still seems a steep hike and way above inflation - businesses could be hit hard.

“The impact will be more acutely felt in smaller businesses and we are forever battling against increasing prices.”

Essex and Suffolk Water plans to increase its charges for water supply from £127 in 2004/05 to £160 by 2010 - a rise of 25%. The bills will rise by 11% in 2005/06 and a further 16% over the next four years.

It believed the increase was necessary to find the proper maintenance of existing assets - reservoirs, treatment works, pumps, pipes and other facilities - and provide new ones in line with Government requirements.

John Cuthbert, its managing director, said: “We said at the time of the last price review that such low charges were unsustainable and this has proved to be the case. We are a long-term business and our assets must be protected for future generations.”

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