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Yorkshire Water

Pilloried for its performance during the drought, Yorkshire Water has rebuilt its supply system to ensure that it will not be caught short of water again.

Storm cloud

Sewer flooding stands out in the performance charts of Yorkshire

Water's 1999 annual report as being something that needs attention.

Dealing with combined sewer overflows will be one of the biggest capital expenditure projects in AMP3 in the period from 2000 to 2005. There are 1,100 of them to sort out - almost one for every working day throughout the five-year period. The reason that Yorkshire has a particular problem is a consequence of the terrain in the area and the manner in which it has developed since the Victorian era.

Industrial and housing developments began at the bottom of Yorkshire's steep narrow valleys. As the urbanisation spread uphill, the original sewers became overloaded. Rather than installing larger pipes at the bottom of the valleys the developers simply put in storm overflows.

The task for the next five years is to go back and do the job properly, to 21st century standards.

High and dry

Yorkshire Water ran short of water in the 1995 drought because it didn't rain in the Pennines. In fact during that year it barely rained in the spring, it didn't rain in the summer, and by and large it didn't rain in the autumn.

At the end of the year reservoirs were only 10% full. Water had to be tankered in from Northumbrian Water to supplement supplies, which in some towns were limited to standpipes in the streets.

Once the media got stuck in, the company's official response was embarrassing. It made a bad situation far more damaging to reputations than it need have been. Nothing effective was done to demonstrate the enormous engineering effort being put in to cope which what was a highly unusual climatic quirk. It seems that after a time the company made a decision that things had got so bad that all it could do was keep its head down and ignore the media pillorying.

In fact in October 1995, in the midst of the crisis, Yorkshire Water had set to work on remarkably speedy construction of pipeline links which could be used to move water around the region to the large centres of population. In all some 230M was spent within the next year. An addition to the trunk main system also included a link to the Tees which has yet to be used in anger.

Looking back, capital programme delivery manager John Spain notes that earlier investments had prevented the situation from being even worse: 'Happily we had upgraded the treatment works so we could cope with some fairly sludgy water.' The upland water is very peaty and discoloured.

In the four years since the drought a sustained effort has gone into dealing with leakage from the company's 29,800km of mains. Losses have been reduced by a third.

Frame maker

Closer working relationships with fewer and fewer framework contractors and consultants are planned by Yorkshire Water in its search for keener prices and better performance.

Titled 'Capital solutions', the process now in hand is aimed at cutting overhead costs on the AMP3 workload which will be a relatively high number of low-cost projects.

Currently Yorkshire Water has nine contractors, selected from 70, on its list for civils and process work to be let up to the end of this year. Most projects let over the past 18 months have been under the New Engineering Contract, making the company one of the biggest users in the UK, it believes. Previously it used the Institution of Chemical Engineers contract.

There is a matching set of five framework consultants engaged using the Professional Services Contract. Yorkshire Water puts out all its engineering design work. It also has sewerage agency consultancy agreements with 12 councils.

Repair and maintenance of all E&M assets has been outsourced for five years in a £50M deal with Morrison Facilities Management and Weir Engineering Services which took on 150 former Yorkshire Water staff. Meter reading has been outsourced to Yorkshire Electricity.

Staying on the company's lists is becoming more difficult. Yorkshire Water keenly measures the performance of everyone working for it. Contractors are marked against key indicators for cost, people, quality and time, then ranked on a points system to decide who should be put off.

When work is put out to tender bids are sought from three contractors - then negotiation starts.

On his desk at Yorkshire Water's Bradford office, capital programme and delivery manager John Spain has a little book listing the latest ranking of all his contractors. Peeping at it is not allowed.

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