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Welcome & Introduction
The Chairman welcomed those present to the third meeting of the Kent Utilities Engagement Sub-Committee. Following invitation from the Chairman; Sub-Committee Members, Guests and Officers gave a brief introduction to their role.
RESOLVED that the minutes of the meeting held on 27 January 2017 were an accurate record and that they be signed by the Chairman.
1. Robin Bishop, Managing Director of Technical and Development Services Group Limited (TDS) explained the background of TDS to Members of the Sub-Committee. Mr Bishop was the Managing Director of TDS which supported the construction sector and engaged with the utility sector on behalf of developers to assess market competition, fair pricing and project feasibility. Mr Bishop came from a technical background and TDS had 4 regional offices and one headquarters and covered the whole of England and Wales. There were differences in the working practices of developers and utilities companies across the country.
2. Mr Bishop explained some of the problems faced by developers, including:
a. Water and sewerage element – companies unwilling to vary standard costings
b. Sewerage companies responding that there is no capacity for developments
c. Companies unwilling to forecast and making no provision for development sites therefore resulting in additional costs
3. Mr Bishop highlighted a development for which South East Water had identified the area and brought schemes forward but Southern Water had stated that there was no capacity. Delays arose where utilities companies did not forecast until there was some certainty about developments. Some schemes took 12 months to design and another 12 months to start work. This was stopping developments moving forward in a timely manner, developers were sitting on the land because there wasn’t the infrastructure to go forward, and utilities companies would prefer the developers to fund the schemes.
4. It was considered that utilities companies could be more open and amenable to discussions. However there was a good relationship with South East Water.
5. There was a discussion around the responsibility for clearing sewers, for example. It was considered that some utilities companies used the developers to improve their networks. Developers could use S106 agreements to connect to sewers; companies wanted a clause in planning consents to ensure developers took responsibility for connections.
6. It was thought that capacity was not as issue, money was being spent upsizing sewers for storm conditions. Members considered that when looking at the big picture there were elements of the system that were not working, but were water companies in breach of their statutory duty in any way? Mr Bishop explained that his company did challenge utilities regulators on behalf of developers where there were problems. Water authorities needed to be more forward thinking. There was a need to allow for future development and future expansion, utilities companies often blamed the local authorities and their lack of housing policies preventing them from forecasting need.
7. Mr Bishop also alerted Members to highways insisting on dual networks because they did not want services crossing the main highways. This was doubling up on cost.
8. The Chairman offered that the sub-committee write to the Government Minister explaining that there were requirements to build houses but there were some major inhibitors.
9. Q: do you think the new charging regime will benefit both large and small developments equally? Mr Bishop stated that he did not think ... view the full minutes text for item 12.
1. Rachel Baker, Developer Services Manager gave a presentation to Members of the Sub-Committee which can be viewed here.
2. She explained that the estimating and planning was undertaken within South East water and delivery by Clancy Docwra.
3. South East Water carried out internal work to change their internal developer services. This changed the idea that the developer was not a customer; previously the company did not believe that developers were customers. Customer engagement was crucial.
4. South East Water were involved in start-up meetings, houses were being built very quickly and there was a need to ensure work reflects timescales.
5. Mrs Baker explained that there were not many self lay organisations (SLOs) in the South East (5% of schemes), South East Water had been trying to work out why. It was found that developers felt that they weren’t treated in same way as water customers, so South East Water built a system to log discussions.
6. Mrs Baker was part of the Charging Subgroup which was developing the new charging system for water connections. It was made up of water companies, DEFRA, Water UK lawyer, and a Member of HBA and HBF. The group has looked at options and aims to build a model to find best way for industry to charge, key is transparency and consistency. It was thought that many developers were blind to the cost of new charging regime.
7. Regarding illegal connections, this was not a big problem for South East Water but it was a huge issue for Thames Water with 6000 illegal connections per year, from developers or members of the public.
8. Mrs Baker explained that she could understand the hesitancy of other companies but South East Water was still trying to be as proactive as possible. Developers asked what capacity was available and South East Water would respond so developers could begin building so not to hold up site.
9. With regards to assets department – South East Water had a 5 year plan and water resources had a 25 year plan. Developers made initial contact for planning as early as possible. South East water had worked hard to ensure developers realise they are available and that the best option is for developers to come in and talk to them.
10. Issues with new developments – there was due to be a group on 8 March where OfWat would discuss what could be done to lift barriers to lack of competition.
11. A brief discussion was had around Highways and there was surprise that this had not been raised as an issue more frequently as was raised in developer groups.
12. New charging rules would be available in April 2018, and it was thought that this would encourage competition. There was also a Government consultation on Fixing Broken housing market.
13. A Member stated that it would help if others would follow the example set by South East Water. When dealing with major set of developments, ... view the full minutes text for item 13.