A long running row between Southern Water and some villagers in Gatcombe and Chillerton on the Isle of Wight has been raised in Parliament.
The Island's MP, Andrew Turner, secured a 30 minute debate at 10pm in the House of Commons last night (Tuesday).
He used the opportunity to raise the issues with Richard Benyon MP, the Minister responsible for water supply in the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Mr Turner won the right to hold the debate in a ballot open to all MPs.
In 1907, a wealthy benefactor and philanthropist, Sir Charles Seely, effectively gave away land to Shanklin District Urban Council in return for either free or reduced rate water for residents who lived on the land for 999 years. Now just over 100 years later, Southern Water, who have taken over the rights and liabilities of the agreement have unilaterally declared that the agreement has 'run its course'.
Mr Turner said, "This is an example of a big company using its position to ride roughshod over 'the little people' when they know they cannot be challenged at an affordable price.
"The particular reason I am raising this with Ministers is because Southern Water are a monopoly supplier, regulated by OFWAT. An independent body called the Consumer Council for Water should represent the rights of consumers in disputes with water companies free of charge, but they have declined to get involved saying these are legal issues.
"The real issue is that Southern Water has simply declared that they are not bound by a legal agreement that appears to still be in force; but my constituents have received legal advice saying that it is. Southern Water is interpreting the law to say what they want it to say; they know the villagers won't take them to court and that their regulator has refused to get involved. There should be some way of sorting this out which is not prohibitively expensive. I don't know if the Minister can do anything to help in this case; I hope he can. But in any event I wanted to raise these issues to highlight the high-handed way Southern Water are acting towards Islanders."
A Southern Water spokesman said: “This historic agreement was entered into in 1907.
“At that time the water supply arrangements were entirely different and related to a single estate which has ceased to exist, not the 200-plus individual properties that Southern Water currently supplies in the area.
“Southern Water is currently undertaking a £1.8 billion programme of service and environmental improvements across its region, in both water and wastewater.
“This investment is in addition to the significant investment that has been undertaken in the last 20 years and is equivalent to spending almost £1,000 for every property the company serves.
“We maintain that the charges for statutory water services in the Chillerton area are now properly due and payable and that it is entirely unfair to expect our customers generally to subsidise others who do not pay.”