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Interview | Nevil Muncaster, Yorkshire Water

Typical waste settlement tanks found at yorkshire water's waste water treatment works crop

Getting engineers to return to the profession’s origins is at the heart of how Yorkshire Water plans to spend around £1.5bn over the next few years.

“We’re trying to get back to the roots of civil engineering, [by] putting society back at the heart of what we do,” says Yorkshire Water director of asset management Nevil Muncaster.

About 5.3M people live in the Yorkshire & Humberside region, and the utility company supplies water to 2.1M residential properties and 140,000 businesses. It has 671 treatment works and 83,000km of pipework spread across the region.

Nevil muncaster, director of asset management at yorkshire water crop

Nevil muncaster, director of asset management at yorkshire water crop

Muncaster: Getting back to engineering basics

As it gears up to spend an estimated £1.5bn in the AMP7 financial control and investment period which runs between 2020/21 and 2024/25, it is looking for innovation from the supply chain.

Beyond traditional construction

It wants to push the supply chain to think beyond traditional construction and engineering requirements to find solutions that benefit the environment and improve the quality of life in the communities Yorkshire Water serves.

This means that it no longer expects suppliers to only consider costs, existing assets and future assets when bidding for work.

It now wants them to take into account, other factors such as the natural environment in flood defence work.

Social value

Suppliers should also now consider the social value a project brings to a community and the skills it brings and retains in the region when pitching for work.

The Bradford-headquartered provider has already appointed Stantec as its strategic planning partner in a £50M deal. Its job is to prepare supply chain arrangements and contracts for the next five-year asset management period.

The contract began in January and will run until 2020 with the option to extend for a further five years.

Partner search

Yorkshire Water has also begun the search for partners  for the £1.1bn Yorkshire Alliance to deliver the asset management plan.

Yorkshire Water will demand innovation and collaboration from its supply chain partners but is determined to remain in charge as an “intelligent client”, says Muncaster.

“The supply chain should enhance our capabilities and give us better capacity to serve. But what we don’t want then is it telling us what to do.

Driving seat

“We want to make sure that we’re in the driving seat and remain so,” he says.

“It’s a huge asset base we have out there, and sometimes things we think are going to work, don’t. We have to change priorities sometimes.

“We need to own what we do and change direction if we need to.”

Yorkshire Water will be looking for a different kind of partner in AMP7. For example, it will need to partner with more data analysts to help it get the best from its existing physical assets.

Different partners to before

“There are people who can probably do that much better than we can, so the kind of partners we’re looking for in future will probably be very different to the partners we have today,” explains Muncaster.

“We still have an engineered asset, so we’re still going to need engineering partners”, he adds,

“but we will also need a whole raft of people who manage data to go alongside our assets to help us get the best out of them”.

Muncaster says retaining the region’s intellectual capital is crucial to the region’s success.

There are 11 universities in the county but persuading the best graduates to stay can be a challenge, Muncaster says.

“A lot of people come to university in Yorkshire, get their degrees and then leave and go elsewhere, and we want them to stay here.”

Yorkshire Water is one of the biggest employers in the region and innovation can encourage the brightest minds to stay in the area, Muncaster says.  

Creating excitement

“It’s [about] creating the excitement,” he explains. “Why would people want to work here, why would people want to live here? Because what we’re doing is ground-breaking and exciting, and in places, I think, globally leading.”

The supply chain must offer the same, he says.

Yorkshire has swathes of countryside, with the Dales to the west, the Moors in the North, the Wolds in the East Riding and it is bordered by the Peak District in the south.

Supplying water to this vast and varied region is challenging, Muncaster says. Innovative water solutions that benefit the community are at the heart of what Yorkshire Water is trying to do, he explains.

The supply chain should enhance our capabilities and give us better capacity to serve

The low-lying East Yorkshire city of Hull, one of the UK’s key ports, is particularly prone to flooding. In 2007, a month’s worth of rain fell across the region in one day, affecting 9,000 properties and causing £41M worth of damage.

Most flooding in the city, which sits below sea level on the north bank of the Humber estuary, is exacerbated by water run-off from the surrounding hills of the East Riding.

Hull’s sewer system becomes inundated and cannot cope with the excess water, Muncaster says, but extending the sewer network would cost too much at an estimated £1bn.  

Instead, in partnership with the Environment Agency, and Hull City and East Riding of Yorkshire councils, it has tried to stem the flow of water from the surrounding countryside using natural flood defences.

Landscaped flood protection

And they have also been designed to take into account how the environment and landscape can be used in flood protection and how they have helped save customers money.

More than 120km west of Hull in Hebden Bridge, flooding is also an issue for the community and a challenge for the water company.

The Yorkshire Dales town was submerged during the 2015 Boxing Day floods.

A series of tests showed that nearby reservoir levels could be reduced without too much of an adverse effect on water supply so the company is working on plans to use the reservoirs above the town for flood storage.

The trial started in December and will run until spring this year.

40% leak reduction pledge

The company has pledged to reduce leaks by 40% by 2025 in response to customer feedback that said the current levels of water lost to leaks is “unacceptable”.

In November, Yorkshire Water launched a trial using drones and satellites to spot leaks from the air.

 “What we have said is: ‘if that’s unacceptable we need to do something about it’”, says Muncaster.

“To do something about it we need to be ambitious because that will bring proper innovation into the industry.”

Yorkshire Water aims to be disruptive in the sector, he says, and needs “partners who will come along and be disruptive with us too, because that is the way we will innovate and grow.”

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