French ownership marks out Northumbrian Water Limited as being a little different from the other ten water and sewerage companies.
It is part of the Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux's Northumbrian Water Group, along with the Northumbrian Lyonnaise International water service contract business, Essex and Suffolk Water supply company and seven related water industry companies including the Entec consultancy and a technology and research centre.
NWL supplies water and sewerage services to 2.6M people in a region which stretches from Berwick to south of Darlington. The area contains marked divisions between localised heavy industry, coastal towns and sparcely developed upland.
Thanks to the Tyne Tees water transfer tunnel, with its huge Kielder reservoir, the company has more than adequate water supplies. Kielder was built in the late Seventies when a big expansion of steel production on the Tees was in prospect.
'The steel industry has shrunk but the aqueduct is 'in no way a white elephant', insists NWL managing director Tony Harding.
'What it has done is help the North East attract new industries, including car manufacturing. Companies have relocated with good quality labour and lower than average costs.'
Despite the plentiful resources, Harding adds that the company cannot afford to be complacent over leakage.
'We've got very near to the economic level,' he says. 'Leakage has been an actual measure of the efficiency of the organisation.'
Removal of nitrate and pesticide from drinking water absorbed considerable investment in the first five years after privatisation. Cleaning up coastal discharges and the River Tees has been the major preoccupation of AMP2. Treatment of sewage means that sludge production has become a significant challenge. Planning refusal for a sludge incinerator in 1992 drove the company to re-examine its original strategy for landfill, incineration and drying, says investment unit manager Steve Coverdale.
The result is a centralised drying unit at Bran Sands, the largest in the country, which will be fed principally by ship and will produce 80, 000t of dry pellets a year by 2003.