The 2022 issue of the Kensington Society newsletter has just been mailed to all members, but it can also be read and/or downloaded here.
In this issue we focus six pages on Thames Water, the third largest water and sewage company in the world, which was given for free to private investors in 1989. Given for free? Well, it can even be argued that the government paid the investors some £7 billion to take them over. Because, in order to make the ten English and Welsh public water and sewage utilities really attractive for investors, the government wrote off their £7.6 billion debts, added a “green dowery” of £2.3 billion to their balance sheets, and gave them a capital allowance of £12 billion, before offering them to the market. They were then sold for £7.6 billion, which was used to offset the write-off, so the government basically spent £21.9 billion in order to receive £7.6 billion…
However, the government promised the tax payers that the investors in return would invest billions in upgrading the leaky and under-dimensioned network of pipes and sewage treatment works at no cost to the consumers.
So, what’s the situation 33 years later? Well, the once debt-free companies have now accumulated £48 billion in debts and have given their shareholders £57 billion, while the consumers have paid for whatever improvements that have been done through water bills that have increased by 40% above the rate of inflation since 1989. Our private water companies replace pipes at the tenth of the speed in most other European countries – where this is handled by public utilities. At the current rate it will take 2,000 years to replace the English networks!
In the meantime, our fresh water pipes constantly leak (Thames Water lost 217 billion litres of fresh water due to leaks in 2021) and also often burst and cause flooding, while London’s 150 year old sewage network can’t handle the increasingly frequent heavy rains caused by climate change: since 1888 Kensington has had 12 rain floods – and seven of those have happened in the last 18 years.
The last such flood happened in July 2021, when heavy rain caused flooding of more than 340 properties across Kensington, often filling basements with foul wastewater (waste from bathrooms run in the same pipes as rain water from streets and building roofs).
And while Thames Water started out as a British plc in 1989, enabling anyone to buy shares in the company, it is privately owned since 2001 – first by a German company and since 2006 by an Australian investment group, which in 2012 sold 18.6% of the shares to investment companies in Abu Dhabi and China, and 13% to the BT Pension Scheme. This means that 87% of Thames Water today is foreign owned.
The 2022 newsletter also contains a four-page chairman’s report about another very hectic year, a eight-page planning report, covering large and small developments across Kensington, and a story urging Kensingtonians to revisit two landmarks that have undergone major refurbishments: Leighton House by Holland Park (12 Holland Park Road) and Dora House in South Kensington (108 Old Brompton Road).
Here is the link. Hope you enjoy it!