Drought ban could cripple South East businesses
April 1st 2006
Window cleaners, car washers, facilities and maintenance workers across the South East could be facing a summer of discontent if plans for Drought Orders – being considered by several of the regions’ water companies – are given the green light by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Southern, Mid Kent and Sutton and East Surrey water companies are all pressing for the orders – which will affect 2.5 million people in Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Cleaning Matters attended the Sutton & East Surrey Drought Order meeting on March 29 in which the Planning Supervisor heard the water company’s case from imposing ‘non essential use’ bans on water. It claims the region is now experiencing exceptional circumstances – the second driest period since 1883 – requiring exceptional measures. These include banning hose pipes, pressure washers, sprinklers and any other nonessential use of water.
Sutton and East Surrey’s claim regarding the severity of the drought was backed up by the Environment Agency. Agency environment manager for the Thames region, David Willis said: “Rainfall has been much lower than usual. Our position is that we have exceptional circumstances – we have had exceptionally low rainfall resulting in a serious drought.” The water company said failure to uphold its request for the order could lead to it applying for an Emergency Drought Order – a more severe order which could lead to rotor cuts or standpipes. In layman’s terms this means water being cut off to entire areas at certain times, with pipes in the street supplying the public with essential water– much like third world countries.
The consequences for businesses such as car washing, window cleaning, street cleaning, grounds keeping, agriculture, sports venues such as cricket grounds and golf courses, public gardens and private swimming pools could be severe. When questioned about these socio-economic consequences, Sutton and East Surrey replied that “there are other employment opportunities in the area”.
However, Ionics owner and founder of the British Window Cleaning Academy, Craig Mawlam says there is some hope for window cleaners. “It’s difficult to pre-guess what the Planning Supervisor will recommend, but there is a health and safety issue that is unique to window cleaners. We have spoken with the HSE – and it was appalled that window cleaners would be forced to adopt practises which put them at increased risk. We hope HSE involvement will move things along in our favour, allowing window cleaners to use poles in otherwise dangerous situations. There is also a loophole in the drought order directive (created in 1991, predating water fed pole use in the UK) that we hope to use in our favour.
“Currently, our advice to window cleaners is to carry on as normal.”
Should the drought order be upheld and no exemptions made for window cleaners, those caught using the equipment could face fines of up to £2000. However, this is likely to apply to persistent offenders – i.e. those within the highly mobile industry who get caught too often. It is thought there will be only 15 inspectors for the region. The onus is also on the inspectors to prove water has been drawn from the water companies source, and not brought in from other areas.
Traditional window cleaning, using buckets and ladders, will not be affected by the drought order.
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