MPs' fury at water bill hike plan

By Rebecca SheppardPOLITICIANS have fiercely criticised a water company's plan to increase its bills by £100 over five years.Anglian Water announced yesterday its bills could rise by an average of £20 each year for the next five years.

By Rebecca Sheppard

POLITICIANS have fiercely criticised a water company's plan to increase its bills by £100 over five years.

Anglian Water announced yesterday its bills could rise by an average of £20 each year for the next five years.

That would mean its average charge of £278 for the period 2004 and 2005 would increase to £379 by 2010 - and in seven years' time a household could be paying about £1 a day for their water and sewerage.

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The company said the escalating charges were needed to invest £2.7billion into improving its services for customers, cater for growth and maintain its networks of sewers and pipes.

But Richard Spring, the Conservative MP for West Suffolk, said the potential rise in water bills would put more strain on people already having to pay for “expensive” services.

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“What is very much of concern is the huge and rising cost of supportive services bills in Suffolk,” he added.

“The highest increases in council tax were seen in Suffolk, which has caused considerable distress to many people here, especially those on fixed incomes. For the people of Suffolk, this is yet another cost burden.”

Ivan Henderson, the Labour MP for Harwich, where residents pay sewerage charges to Anglian Water, said: “Any increases are not welcome at any time.

“Some areas in my constituency are suffering severe deprivation and because we have a large elderly population, any increase will be quite hard to take. People on low incomes will also struggle to pay.

“But in my area, since I have been an MP, I have seen the investment Anglian Water have put into sewage treatment. We have seen the results as Harwich is now flying a blue flag for its clear beaches.”

But John Gummer, the Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, defended Anglian Water's draft proposal for price rises, which will have to be approved by the government's Office of Water Services.

“The fact is that Anglian Water are not allowed to put the bills up unless the regulator Ofwat has said it is absolutely necessary,” he said.

“We have got a system, which enables these things to be looked at extremely carefully by Ofwat.

“People are using more water and they are demanding higher standards of drinking water and if we want that, then it has to be paid for.”

Andrew Mackintosh, head of communications at Anglian Water, said if the plan went ahead, it would be the only one in the country that gave customers the benefits of improvements after a year instead of five years.

“We fully appreciate that price rises are not popular with customers, but we feel there would be a far greater reaction if we did not upgrade or invest in our services,” he added.

“The benefits of a major investment scheme are quite clear for everyone to see.”

Roy Pointer, the company's chief executive, said: “We want to tackle sewer flooding, odours from some of our sewage treatment works, a major environmental improvement programme and, most importantly of all, an increased maintenance and replacement programme to ensure we can continue to deliver the high-quality services that our customers expect into the future.”

Anglian Water's final business plan will be submitted in the spring and the Office of Water Services will set the prices later in 2004.

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