Yorkshire Water under fire over burst disruption

Questions will be asked about Yorkshire Water's handling of a burst that left 3,000 homes and businesses without water on New Year's Eve – and some still without water yesterday.

Some properties outlying Thirsk were still cut off yesterday – two days after the failure of a main plunged the market town and surrounding villages into chaos.

There was also criticism that after laying on supplies of bottled water for residents Yorkshire Water then whispered the message about where it was and put too much faith in the internet to spread information about what was happening.

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North Yorkshire County Councillor Gareth Dadd said yesterday: "After this is over I will be seeking assurances that Yorkshire Water did everything in its power to avoid what has been a very disruptive 36 to 48 hours – not least for local businesses who rely on New Year's Eve trade to get them through the quiet spell in January and February.

"It is the businesses that had to close that I feel sorry for because the effects on them will go on. There are certainly questions to be answered."

For many residents, the supply problems ended after 12 hours. But during the day restaurants, cafes, and pubs were forced to close owing to a lack of water for handwashing and toilets.

This meant the cancellation of a number of lunchtime bookings for festive meals as well as the loss of passing trade.

Town councillor Alan Morton said: "By 11am all the bottled water in the shops had sold out and some people went to Morrison's in Boroughbridge to buy it. Cafes could not get water or flush their toilets so they had to follow the health and safety rules."

The water company arranged for the delivery of bottled water to the junior school sites in Hambleton Place and Sowerby, plus Millgate car park and Tesco car park.

But Mr Morton said: "It was slightly inept in that having put bottled water out at certain points in the town not many people heard about it. They did all the right things but getting the knowledge around was more difficult."

While many residents and councillors felt the water company had done all it could given that the emergency could not have been foreseen, there were complaints that the company's website and links to social networking sites were not enough to keep the public informed.

Richard Bainbridge, boss of the Black Lion in Thirsk market place, said: "Not everyone has access to the internet. A van with a loudspeaker would have been nice because a lot of people were lost as to what was happening."

He was forced to cancel a couple of small lunchtime parties but trade recovered in the evening as the supply came back on.

"I do not know much about water but I now realise how inconvenient it is to be without it. You just do not realise how much you rely on the stuff," he added.

Thirsk Mayor Derek Adamson was alerted by a series of messages on his answer phone, each promising the problem would be fixed in a couple of hours.

He said: "It was two hours, then two hours all the time. But it was a major problem and I think the way Yorkshire Water handled it was quite good."

Yorkshire Water said Thirsk town centre was now fine but there were pockets along the A19 corridor including Bagby, Little Thirkleby, Thirkleby, and Hutton Sessay, where there were still supply problems as a result of some smaller bursts and air getting into the mains, resulting in flow problems.

"We are hoping to get those fixed and restored as quickly as possible," a spokesman said.

It was "disappointing" to hear a few people felt let them down about the distribution of bottled water. "We used broadcasting, social networking, and our calls centre and website to relay information to the public. So we did make every effort to get the message to customers where the bottled water would be."

He apologised again to customers for disruption from 30 bursts across the area, including another yesterday in Canal Road, near Shipley, affecting Little Horton, Barkerend Road, and Bolton Lane.

In Northern Ireland, dozens of schools may be unable to re-open after Christmas because of burst pipes though officials say the number of properties without water had now been reduced from several thousand to 799.